OnwardPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Last night’s 2-1 triple-overtime setback to the New York Rangers was a tough one for the Caps and their faithful. It’s always difficult to lose a playoff game in overtime whether it happens in the first minute or the 115th. It’s got to be even harder for longtime Caps fans, who’ve witnessed this sort of heartache first-hand on three previous occasions. This one is different, though. More on that later. I was living in Chicago on April 18, 1987 when the Capitals finally succumbed in a four-overtime deciding Game 7 against the New York Islanders in the Patrick Division semifinals. I stayed up until the wee hours watching that night, pulling for the Caps (because why would I pull for a team that had won four successive Stanley Cups so recently?) but watching without any real emotional investment. As you all know, the Isles Pat LaFontaine won that game at 8:47 of the fourth overtime period, beating Caps goalie Bob Mason (who was making the fourth start of his Stanley Cup playoff career) and ending Washington’s season. When the Caps faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs, I was at the tail end of my first season covering the team. My daughter was almost five months old, and I was a stay-at-home dad in those days. Before going to work each day, her mom would pass her off to me after feeding her somewhere around 6 a.m. Then I’d take care of her for the rest of the day. The Caps won the first two games of that series with the Penguins, taking both of them on the road in the Steel City. Olie Kolzig came on in relief of Jim Carey to win Game 1, and Kolzig started and won Game 2 by a 5-3 score. Carey was the No. 1 guy in net in those days, though, and coach Jim Schoenfeld went back to him for Game 3, a 4-1 Caps loss at USAir Arena. I showed up for Game 4 at USAir Arena on the night of April 24, 1996, knowing that contest would be pivotal. Game 4 is always a huge one in a series, particularly when it’s 2-1 in favor of one team going in. It’s either going to be tied, or one team is going to have a two-game lead in the series and be a game shy of clinching. Schoenfeld went back to Kolzig for Game 4 – just the second start of his Stanley Cup playoff career – and the Pens started Tom Barrasso, a two-time Cup winner and one-time Vezina Trophy winner. Barrasso left with an injury after the first and was replaced by Ken Wreggett. I was seated in the auxiliary press box at one end of the ice, seated next to Steve Kolbe, who was still a year away from being hired as Ron Weber’s successor behind the microphone on the Capitals’ radio network. Kolbe and I watched and chatted as the Caps forged a 2-0 lead on power play goals from Michal Pivonka and Peter Bondra. Mario Lemieux scored late in the second for the Pens, and then Kolbe and I gazed on in amazement as Caps forward Todd Krygier baited Lemieux into taking 19 minutes in penalties and an ejection from the game late in the second period. With 12 minutes left in the third, Pittsburgh’s Petr Nedved tied the game at 2-2 on a power play goal. As the puck dropped for the first overtime, Kolbe said to me, “Next goal wins this series.” I nodded in agreement. That seemed like a slam-dunk observation at the time. The Caps outshot the Pens 14-3 in the first overtime. Caps captain Dale Hunter laid a crushing hit on Pittsburgh’s Jaromir Jagr. Without Lemieux, the Pens seemed to be teetering. The Caps were outshot 42-21 during regulation, but they held a 37-12 advantage in shots on goal in the next three frames Wregget and Kolzig went toe-to-toe for hours, well into the wee hours of the morning. Caps forward Joé Juneau had the best chance to end the game when he was awarded an ultra-rare penalty shot iwith 4:16 left in the second overtime – the only one in NHL history at that point in time – but the puck rolled on him a bit and the shot hit Wregget right in the crest. The game started on a Wednesday night, and it went inexorably into Thursday morning. It surpassed the aforementioned game against the Islanders as the longest in Caps’ history. Late in the fourth overtime session, the Penguins got a power play opportunity when – wait for it – Caps defenseman Jim Johnson (now a Washington assistant coach) was sent to the penalty box. Finally, at 2:22 on Thursday morning, and just 45 seconds shy of a fifth overtime session, Nedved scored from the left circle. I got home around 3:30, still shocked and dumbfounded. And unable to sleep. I spent most of the next day lying on the couch with my daughter clutched to my chest. I slept when she did, and when she was awake, I watched the replay of the game on HTS. I still don’t know why. Kolbe was right, of course. The Caps didn’t win another game in the series. Pittsburgh in six. April 20, 2003 was Easter Sunday and Game 6 of the Eastern Conference was played that afternoon at what was then known as MCI Center. My kids – my son was born between the second and third rounds of the Caps’ 1998 run to the Stanley Cup final – were off on spring break trip to Cancun with their mom, and I was up in my usual press box perch. After having taken the first two games of the series on the road (sound familiar?), Tampa had won three straight – including two in the District – to put the Caps were down 3-2 in the series and push them to the brink. Kolzig faced Tampa Bay’s Nikolai Khabibulin that day. Peter Bondra gave the Caps a 1-0 lead on a second period power play goal, but the Lightning’s Dave Andreychuk tied it with just 4:06 left in regulation. Brad Richards had the primary assist on Andreychuk’s goal; Richards also had the primary helper on Marian Gaborik’s three-overtime game-winner last night. Kolzig and Khabibulin kept the red lights at bay for two full overtime sessions. Then, early in the third overtime, Caps defenseman Jason Doug jumped on the ice too soon and Washington was whistled for a too many men on the ice violation. You know the rest. Martin St. Louis joined Lafontaine and Nedved in that pantheon of postseason overtime Caps killers, as the game and Washington’s season came to an end on a power play goal. Going home to an empty house really sucked after that one. Last night was different. The Caps didn’t lose a lead in regulation, and this loss didn’t end their season, literally or figuratively. They played a solid game throughout. They had their chances, and they even killed off a pair of overtime penalties without incident. Talking to players after the game, there was no dread in their voices. It was a Game 3 loss, period. They’re right where they were after three games of their first-round series with the Boston Bruins, down 2-1 and needing to win Game 4 on home ice in order to shrink the series to a best-of-three. The Caps managed to do exactly that just last month against Boston, and they can call on that experience going forward in the days and games to come. Thursday is an off day for licking wounds and healing up physically. I get the sense that these guys remain unbowed mentally. That’s a good thing. The Capitals need Game 4. Their 22-year-old goaltender, who started his 10th career postseason game last night, is wise beyond his years and he also knows a good bit about the mental side of the game, an aspect he has always embraced rather than shunned. He has full belief in himself and his teammates. “My job is to stop pucks and to win games,” says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. “I believe if I focus on every shot and play to the best of my abilities, with the group we have, I am confident that we will win four games out of seven.” My son was in attendance last night, earning his Caps fan stripes for sitting through the third-longest game in franchise history and the longest in the barn on F St. I called him after the game. He was fine; he has taken some previous playoff exits hard, so I worry about him. I think he senses this team and this situation is different, too. No fear or dread in his voice. No resignation. A junior in high school now, my daughter was at home doing homework after her driver’s ed class ended last night. I texted her and told her the game was in triple-overtime. Minutes later, it ended. She texted back, “Just caught the last minute. Damn. Goodnight.” Onward.
The Capitals and the Rangers played 114 minutes and 14 seconds of hockey in Wednesday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two teams. By night’s end, a lot of the team stats on both sides were fairly similar. The Rangers led 49-46 in shots on goal. New York had a 41-40