The Washington Capitals, once within 20 minutes of yet another second round exit from the postseason, beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-2, last night in Pittsburgh to put themselves within 60 minutes (and hopefully no more) of the most improbable comeback in team history. After last night’s win to even the series at three games apiece, the Caps will host the Penguins in Game 7 on Wednesday night. The cousins are equal parts thrilled and terrified.
Cheerless… I spent the whole day Monday polishing my brassie and baffing spoon and cleek and mashie and niblick, and the Caps went and spoilt everything. But hey, the golf clubs can wait until after the June draft for all I care. Just remember…the Caps have never, not once, not anytime, won three straight playoff games against the Penguins.
Fearless… The philosopher George Santayana once famously opined that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is an instance in which the Caps might benefit from embracing their history… of not winning three straight games against the Penguins in the playoffs, of not winning that Game 7 in 2009 when Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby met for the first time in the playoffs, of Ovechkin not burying that breakaway early in that contest. Remember it all, and say to yourself, “not this time.”
Fearless… As Peerless pointed out last night, the Penguins have not scored a 5-on-5 goal in the last 109:36 of this series. They have a power play goal and a pair of 4-on-4 goals. That’s not a formula for success if you are the Penguins. Since Phil Kessel scored a power play goal in the second period of Game 5, the Caps have outshot the Penguins, 44-31 (58.67 SF%), overall. And it you take a look at Games 5 and 6, the first 50 minutes of Game 5 and the first 52 minutes of Game 6, when the Caps were racing out to multi-goal leads, the Caps out-attempted the Penguins by a 88-56 margin at 5-on-5 (61.11 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey). The difference is now, shots are getting deep and going in; they are not getting blocked and turned around for Penguin odd-man breaks.
Cheerless… One game. You know what you can do with your Corsi for one game? All it would take to undo two games of great effort and lots of production is an odd bounce, a bad call, Marc-Andre Fleury remembering how to play goalie again. In the long run, Corsi matters, but like that economics guy Peerless is always quoting, “in the long run, we’re all dead.”
Cheerless… Justin Williams does not have a goal in this series.
Fearless… Justin Williams is 7-7-14 in Games 7 in his career, and his teams are 7-0 in those games. The secret to comedy and playoff success is timing.
Fearless… If you want one obscure fact for Game 7, here it is. In games on home ice this season, following a game in which the Caps scored five or more goals, regardless of venue, they are 9-0-0.
Cheerless… In road games following a game in which they allowed five or more goals, regardless of venue, the Penguins are 6-2-0.
Cheerless… Alex Ovechkin has two goals in his last eight games on 27 shots.
Fearless… In ten career postseason games on home ice against the Penguins, Ovechkin is 10-5-15, plus-1, including a hat trick.
Peerless… Kids dream of this moment. The clock running out in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, the bottom of the ninth inning in the World Series, rising up to take the last shot as time is running out in the NBA finals. This is not Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, but for Capitals Nation, it is the next rung on the ladder of accomplishment – vanquishing the Pittsburgh Penguins in a postseason series. This will be the Caps’ fourth trip to a Game 7 against the Penguins, and they are in search of their first win. Over the last two games, things have come together in a way seldom seen by Caps fans in the playoff history of the franchise. Scorers score – even secondary scorers. The team smothers the opponent to deny them shot attempts, let alone shots on goal. Their goalie starts to outplay his counterpart at the other end. The coaches’ moves are the right ones, not revealed to be panicky attempts to change the tone.
So much can happen in one game, good or bad. The last time these teams met in a over-the-top hyped Game 7, the outcome was decided early, the Caps finally relenting after a barrage of Penguin shots and punishment over the first six games. This time, it is the Caps unleashing the fury of offensive pressure, forechecking, and physical play. The Penguins are champions for a reason; they will not go quietly into the off-season. But one could see cracks in their armor in Games 5 and 6. For the Caps, the task will be to widen those fissures enough to drive the bus into the conference finals. Do what you’ve been doing, and just do it. Make that dream you had as kids come true.