Good Caps, Bad Caps
May 8, 2012 in Playoffs
In 12 postseason games — and most likely throughout the entire 2011-12 season — the Washington Capitals have swayed between playing brilliantly and being mistake-prone. These emotional and physical swings can happen from one period to the next, or even in the bat of an eyelash.
Last night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers brought the Caps’ postseason record to 6-6. They’ve scored 26 goals and allowed 27. They eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in seven games and were this close to being up three games to two on the top-seeded Rangers. In a flash, New York received a four-minute power play (on a double-minor to Joel Ward), scored two goals in less than two minutes of elapsed game time (over the end of regulation and the start of overtime) and snatched a victory away from the Caps.
Even so, many would argue that the Caps had no business even being that close. The Rangers out shot them, 38-18 overall and 17-4 in the first period. New York dominated play for most of the game and, even though they failed to unleash a shot on three power plays, the Rangers still converted when it mattered most. The Caps’ offense seems to be improving, but they still couldn’t get a shot on goal during several odd-man rushes last night.
But that’s been the Caps’ M.O. all along. They’re 6-1 when they score first, 0-5 when they don’t. (Their lone defeat when they notched the initial tally was game three against Boston.) For the record, the Rangers scored first last night.
The Caps’ 2.17 goals scored per game is last among teams still playing — tied with the Rangers — and their power play is converting at 17.1 percent, tied for seventh. They’ve allowed 2.25 goals per game — sixth-best in the league — while their penalty kill is at 85 percent, seventh in the league.
They have only held two leads of more than one goal in all 12 playoff games combined. (They’ve only trailed by two goals once, however.) According to Mike Wise’s latest column in The Washington Post, the Caps have now been tied or been up or down a goal for 792 minutes of 806 total minutes played in the postseason.
This team gives you hope one moment (winning game five against Boston for a chance to eliminate the Bruins on home ice) and then takes it away (losing game six at home to the Bruins). A similar pattern could have unfurled itself last night — until the Rangers won the game in overtime.
Every game has been decided by one goal (except game one against the Rangers) and six have gone into overtime — including two that have ventured past the first extra session. They’re 2-4 in those overtime games, but undefeated in games following those overtime losses. Overall, they haven’t lost consecutive games throughout the 2012 playoffs.
So now the season comes down to one game — again. In their only elimination game of the postseason, the Caps defeated the Bruins in overtime in game seven at TD Bank Garden. They’re now facing elimination at home, needing a win on Wednesday and another on Saturday back at Madison Square Garden to earn the franchise’s third berth in the conference finals (and first since 1998, when Coach Dale Hunter was the team captain). And, yet again, tomorrow’s game follows an overtime loss.
Like the entire season, the upcoming one or two games against the Rangers surely will have ebbs and flows and will be decided by the closest of margins. The team will make one brilliant play that will be followed by a head-scratching mistake.
But that’s why it’s hard to stop watching.