Thursday, April 23, 2009

Deja Vu in Washington... 23 Years Later

This season when the Capitals were making a run at the franchise's all-time points record, it was the 1985-86 squad that held the record of 107 points that was the hallmark until this year's edition.

Ask any long-time Washington fan can tell you what happened to that year's team, and it likely will be one of the team's biggest missed opportunities in franchise history - and ended at the hands of the Rangers.

That edition of the Caps did get through the first round by sweeping the Islanders out in a three-game series, and after the Patrick Division's fourth-place club took care of the first-place Flyers, who had 110 points and finished 32 points ahead of the Rangers - who narrowly edged out the Penguins for the final playoff spot in the division.

So, with that path cleared for the franchise's first division title with a rather lopsided matchup, the Capitals suffered a tough six-game loss, as the series turned on a tough loss in Game 4 at the Garden and ended up losing in six games. In fact, that 6-5 overtime loss came 23 years ago to the day today, and ended perhaps the team's best chance at lofting the Stanley Cup as a team with four future Hall-of-Famers couldn't beat John Vanbeisbrouck and advance to face the Montreal Canadiens in the Wales Conference Finals - losing three one-goal games.

While other Caps teams eventually broke through to the conference final (in 1990) and eventually the Stanley Cup Final (in 1998), that team probably also represented the biggest disappointment in franchise history, losing to a team well behind them in the standings thanks to a hot netminder. With the defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers having fallen to the Calgary Flames on Steve Smith's own goal in seven games in the Smythe Division final, the Caps would have been the only team left in the postseason with more than 89 points, and the team's best overall chance to lift the Stanley Cup probably evaporated with a 2-1 loss on April 27, 1986 at the Garden.

While this year's Rangers are much more talented than that version of the Blueshirts, it still will be seen as a big disappointment if the Captials cannot climb out of their 3-1 hole against Henrik Lundqvist and New York. The window of opportunity isn't quite the same as it was back then in 1986 with the Bruins through already and the Red Wings likely going to close out Columbus, but still, a first-round exit will extend the Capitals' playoff drought to a dozen years heading into next season, and also likely dampen what had been a large groundswell of support for the franchise.

Those Bryan Murray teams were usually squads that had good regular seasons, but couldn't adapt to the playoffs well and had trouble raising their game, and now, the Caps are facing similar questions through four games of this year's postseason.

As several players noted earlier in the series, they knew their effort in the first two games was good enough for a regular-season contest, but not a playoff contest. And after delivering a playoff-type effort Monday, they didn't quite jump that bar Wednesday night.

At least this version of the Capitals showed life after falling behind 3-1 to Philadelphia in what was a fairly ugly Games 3 and 4 at Wachovia Center. The Caps have played decently in all the contests, but aren't quite reaching that level where they are outplaying the Rangers.

They are quite capable of reeling three wins in a row against New York. The only question is if they will.

Time is running out for the Caps to avoid what will go down as one of the biggest disappointments in Washington playoff history - probably since that 1986 squad was ousted by the Rangers.

1 comment:

  1. You might have the different opinion but I think that Montreal and Washington has at least one problem in common. The problem is absence of an offensive defenseman who can transfer the puck forward. To be more specific the names are Markov and Green to Montreal and Washington accordingly. Markov is injured and did not play. No more questions and as result of yesterday game Canadiens can book their flights to summer holidays. But what is about Caps Mike Green? I don’t know. Maybe he has an undisclosed injury or he is tired after long successful season, but something wrong with him. He is not skating, not shooting, not finishing his checks, he is losing his one on one battles and taking lazy penalties etc etc. Shortly, he is not himself. I don’t think Ovechkin, Semin, Kozlov, Fedorov and Varlamov are in any hurry to join Russian National team in Switzerland. So if Washington doesn’t want to join Habs and Blues something supposed to be done urgently. Do you know what's wrong with Mike Green? Let me know at
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