Irregular PostseasonPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
In the last week or so of the 2009-10 regular season, leading up to the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, there was much debate locally about Washington’s potential first-round playoff opponent. With so many possibilities – Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal, Atlanta and the New York Rangers were all in the mix going into the final week – it was fun to debate the merits non-merits of each possibility. Those of us who travel with the team debated the candidates on the basis of best cities to visit, with each of the five having some benefits in that area but Montreal coming up on top of most people’s list. But from a hockey standpoint and from the standpoint of hoping the Caps would draw an opponent that would enable them to make quick work of a first-round opponent after three straight seven-game series in the previous two playoffs, Montreal was way down at the bottom of my list. I figured the Caps would win their first-round series regardless of which opponent they drew, but predicted they’d need six games to dispatch of the Canadiens. To me, Montreal was the best team of the five possibilities listed above, and even if you include fifth-seeded Ottawa, I think the Habs are the best of those half-dozen teams and the one I’d least look forward to facing from a Capitals’ standpoint. I verbalized these thoughts on our Capitals Report and Pre-Cap podcasts going into the playoffs. Most people I talked with did not agree. Several of my traveling cohorts were hoping hard for the Habs, because they believed the atmosphere would be awesome (it was) and that the Caps would take care of business against the Canadiens (ah, no). As much as I love everything about the city of Montreal and the Bell Centre experience, I kept telling them the Caps would be better off with any of the other possible opponents. At least one of our regular podcast listeners predicted a Washington sweep of the Habs. I don’t know anyone who saw Montreal’s improbable penalty killing dominance of the Capitals coming, and I don’t know anyone who figured the league’s best offense would be held to exactly one goal for three straight games. Turns out there was at least one other person who agreed with me. “We played [the Canadiens] 11 times this year,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “And every game was close. Some teams just match up good against you. Quite frankly, it was the one team I didn’t want to play because I thought their match-up was great. When we were watching going down the [stretch] we were thinking, ‘I don’t want to play Montreal, I don’t want to play Montreal,’ because I thought they did a great job against us in all the games. “We end up playing Montreal, it’s a tough series, we end up losing. Some guys I think could have performed better. Maybe I could have changed lines better.” Want some irony? The last time the Caps scored one goal in three straight games was the last three games of calendar 2003, or 479 games previously, including playoff contests. The utter underwhelming underachievement of that overpaid bunch in 2003-04 resulted in the systematic dismantling of that team starting just weeks later, a dismantling that ultimately led the Capitals to the nucleus of young, core players that currently sport the red, white and blue. Peter Bondra scored the Caps’ goal in one of those games. Jeff Halpern scored the lone Washington tally in the other two. Although luminaries like Bondra, Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar and Olie Kolzig still dotted the roster in those days, the three games also featured the lesser, more easily forgotten likes of Rick Berry, Jason Doig, Joel Kwiatkowski, Trent Whitfield and Maxime Ouellet. Only one player who skated in those three games in 2003-04 – a then-20-year-old Boyd Gordon – remains with the Capitals today. Gordon was asked whether it is frustrating that the team can’t quite leap the postseason hurdles. “It is,” says the gritty center. “Especially the regular season we had. It’s really disappointing. It’s hard to accept not playing hockey right now. I think everyone had such high expectations going in. It’s pretty tough.” There were no expectations of that 2003-04 bunch. After scoring one goal in each of three straight games to lose the trio of tilts by a combined score of 13-3, Washington stood at 11-23-3-1 on the season. That wasn’t the case this time around. There are precedents for the sort of thing the Caps and their fans have endured this week. Back in 1970-71, the Boston Bruins were the first NHL team ever to earn 120 or more points (they had 121) in a season. The Bruins scored a league record 399 goals – 108 more than the next most prolific offensive team in the league – during the regular season and faced off against the Canadiens in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Boston led the series 3-2, but lost when an unknown Habs netminder named Ken Dryden stole the series for Montreal. Boston won the Stanley Cup the following season. Prior to the 2009-10 Capitals, the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings were the last NHL team to roll up 120 or more points (they had 124) in a season. Eighth-seeded Edmonton bounced the Wings in the first round that spring, but they’ve since had a three-round playoff journey (in 2007), a Stanley Cup title (in 2008) and a Cup final appearance (in 2009). This year’s Wings are currently in the second round against San Jose. Like the 2009-10 Capitals, the 2005-06 Wings were following up first-round and second-round, respectively, playoff exits with another first-round departure in their 120-plus-point, Presidents’ Trophy winning season. Like the 1970-71 Bruins and the 2005-06 Red Wings, the 2009-10 Caps can only be vindicated by a strong playoff follow-up next spring. They’ll have to play another 82-game regular season between now and then, but you can bet the local faithful will be significantly less dazzled by whatever happens from October through March than it will be by what happens in April and beyond. There has been more than enough regular season success in Washington’s franchise history, but not enough of it after the season ends. The 2010-11 edition of the Capitals has its work cut out for it.
Caps defenseman Mike Green took some time today to speak with local media. Much was made last week of the fact that Green declined to talk to reporters after Washington's disappointing and frustrating Game 7 loss to Montreal on Wednesday and again on Friday when many of his teammates faced