WASHINGTON – Not a single member of the current Washington Capitals roster is from Washington. In fact, Jeff Halpern remains the only player born-and-bred in the area to make the local NHL team, and he’s come and gone twice in his 13 seasons in the league.
So perhaps Jason Chimera, a native of Edmonton who has been with the Capitals only since 2009, could be forgiven for his response when asked Thursday about the collective public angst over the team’s latest blown lead in the playoffs.
“I don’t know why people keep bringing up pasts, or people keep bringing up stuff that happened,” Chimera said. “It’s different teams every year. It’s not like it’s the same individuals every year.”
If Chimera were a live-long Capitals fan, he would feel differently.
He would bear the scars from rooting for a franchise that has lost eight—yes, eight—playoff series when holding a two-game lead. Nobody collapses in the post-season quite like the Capitals. 1985. 1987. 1992. 1995. 1996. 2003. 2009. 2010. All series that Washington led either 2-0 or 3-1—and went on to lose. All were seven-game series, except for a five-gamer in ’85.
Even more startling, the Capitals historically are more likely to lose than win a series after taking a 2-0 lead. They’ve won four, lost five.
They are trending that way again. They were up 2-0 on the New York Rangers. Now it’s 2-2 headed into Friday’s Game 5 in Washington.
While there’s room for plenty of discussion for the technical and strategic reasons for the two losses in New York, one fact remains indisputable: The doubts are inevitably growing among the paying customers, and the players have to make sure those doubts don’t seep into the locker room.
“We need to get some momentum back,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “They’ve got a lot of it with their two wins in their building. We’ve been able to get wins at home, and we’re relying on that and have confidence in that going into Game 5.”
Take away the weight of the Capitals’ history, and the team’s plight doesn’t look so dire. If they keep holding serve at home, they’ll win the series. If they can take fewer penalties and be less sloppy, and if Alex Ovechkin can find more space to make an impact after getting shut out in Games 3 and 4, they should be in good shape to turn the tide.
But then there’s this: The Capitals are have a 10-20 all-time record in Game 5s. That’s a massive skeleton to have in the closest, but it’s a closet the players are trying to keep shut.
“Everyone likes to make things bigger than it actually is,” defenceman Karl Alzner said. “The fans like to panic a little bit sometimes, but we’re not panicking, and everyone will see that tomorrow.”
That’s not to say that emotion won’t play a part from here on out. Setting aside the history, both teams say that confidence and momentum could be as important as line changes and power plays in the next few days.
“Our resiliency has really shown in these past two games, and we are going to need that when we go to Washington,” New York coach John Tortorella said. “They are going to surge there, and we just need to find a way to keep our heads above water and find a way to win a game.”
Nevertheless, if the Rangers do win Game 5, the Capitals will have to work a bit harder to keep the angst of history at bay.
“There’s always momentum swings,” Washington goaltender Braden Holtby said. “It’s just whoever can keep the levelest head, and keep thinking about the long-term in the series, and not worry about those momentum swings, is usually the team that’s going to win.”
Notes: Capitals RW Martin Erat is likely out for Game 5 with an upper body injury suffered in Game 4. Washington recalled RWs Joey Crabb and Tom Wilson from Hershey of the AHL. Wilson, 19, is a 2012 first-round draft pick and made his professional debut last week in the AHL playoffs. … Washington F Brooks Laich, who hasn’t played since April 4, said his recent surgery was a “small procedure that was groin-related.” He is skating again but needs to improve his conditioning before he can play.
AP Sports Writer Ira Podell in New York contributed to this report.
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