Rangers-Capitals Preview

Game 5 was when it started to fall apart for the Washington

Capitals last year. They came out sleepwalking and were down 2-0

before the first period was 10 minutes old, the start of another

spectacular playoff collapse to add to a dubious franchise

legacy.

Unable to finish off an against-the-ropes opponent, the Capitals

went on to blow a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens and

were eliminated after the first round of the playoffs. Settling

things early is a recurrent problem in the nation’s capital –

Washington hasn’t won a series in fewer than seven games since

1998.

”We know all too well,” forward Eric Fehr said Friday, ”how

difficult it is to get that last win.”

It’s a history that permeates the locker room, even as coach and

players emphasize that every year’s team is different and isn’t

beholden to the failures of the past. Headed into Saturday’s first

round Game 5 against the New York Rangers – again as a top seed

with a 3-1 series lead – the Capitals tread the line between

wanting to forget last year’s disaster and the need to learn from

it.

”I don’t remember nothin’, I forget about it,” team captain

Alex Ovechkin said. ”It’s new year, new series, new team. I think

if you’re going to remember everything bad, it’s going to be bad

for you.”

Not everyone is following the captain’s lead. There are lessons

that can be learned, starting with the price that’s paid for

overconfidence.

”I think as a group we were a little more high on ourselves

than this group is,” said forward Mike Knuble, who will miss his

second straight game Saturday with an unspecified injury.

Coach Bruce Boudreau a year ago declared that the Capitals had

”five or six passengers” in Game 5 instead of a full roster that

was playing hard, so it shouldn’t be hard to concoct a motivational

speech this time around if he feels he needs it.

”I think the key is being ready, and if they were looking ahead

last year not to look ahead this year,” Boudreau said. ”Hopefully

it was a great lesson for us.”

The Rangers, of course, are well briefed on the history. The

Capitals have lost four of five best-of-seven series after leading

2-0. They’ve also lost three series after leading 3-1.

”You see what happened last year, and this year … it can

change so fast,” New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. ”The

difference between teams is so small. Maybe in the past, you had a

3-1 lead, it usually meant the team was a lot better. I don’t think

that’s the case anymore.”

That’s especially true in this series. Two games have gone to

overtime, and the only one not decided by one goal was Washington’s

2-0 win in Game 2. There has yet to be a goal scored in the first

period.

Not to mention that the Rangers survived do-or-die mode in the

final days of the regular season, when everything broke the right

way to let them squeeze into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.

”The team has shown when its back is up against the wall that

if we want to accomplish something, we’re able to do it,” forward

Brandon Dubinsky said. ”I know we’re a good enough hockey team to

beat these guys.”

The Capitals obviously want to end the series as soon as

possible, not only to keep the doubts from creeping in but also to

get some rest before the next series. One solution would be to

generate more goals without sacrificing the new commitment to

defense that helped turn around the season in December.

”We have to think of playing defense, but we also have to think

about playing solid offense and creating opportunities and having

our ‘D’ join the rush and things like that,” forward Jason Arnott

said. ”If we do that much better and play in our own zone better,

we should be all right.”