- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Let’s not spoil this seventh game between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins by dwelling on all the other seventh games in the Caps’ sordid history. It’s too easy, too pat. Besides, it takes the focus away from where it should be: an absolutely glorious series between two evenly matched teams playing at the limit of their capabilities — or darn near. If that isn’t something to celebrate, I don’t know what is.

You want hope, Capitals fans? I’ll give you hope. Hope, in fact, isn’t that hard to find. I’m not talking about “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” kind of hope. I’m not talking about the kind of hope that’s rooted in self-denial or boosterism. I’m talking about the hope that comes from, well, what we’ve seen with our own eyes. There’s nothing that’s happened in this back-and-forth battle that suggests the Caps can’t close the deal.

To summarize: All six games have been decided by a single goal, an NHL first. Three have gone to overtime, and two others (Games 3 and 5) nearly did. And how about this? Not only is the scoring even — 14-14 — but the two clubs have alternated the last 11 goals (B’s, Caps, B’s, Caps, B’s, Caps, B’s, Caps, B’s, Caps, B’s). In other words, it’s been hard enough in this series to put two goals together, never mind two wins, which is what the Bruins will try to do Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Speaking of the Bruins, they’re hardly a team for the ages. The defending Stanley Cup champs? Sure. A well-built club from front to back? No question. But they aren’t the ‘70s Montreal Canadiens or the ‘80s New York Islanders or the Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers or even the Detroit Red Wings of a decade or so ago.

Much is being made of the Bruins‘ extensive Game 7 experience. En route to the Cup last year, they went the distance in three series (Montreal, Tampa Bay, Vancouver). This proves two things: One, they’re a clutch bunch — undeniably; and two, they’re not that much better than everybody else.

And now they’re in another seven-game series — their fifth in their past six playoff matchups, counting their seven-game loss to Philadelphia in 2010. So again, this isn’t a dominant team. Dominant teams aren’t constantly being pushed to seven games. The aforementioned Islanders (1980-83) dynasty didn’t have to play any Game 7s during their four-year run. Neither did the late-‘90s Red Wings, the last club to win back-to-back Cups. The Canadiens (1976-79), meanwhile, went the distance just once, and Gretzky’s Oilers did it only twice in their four championship seasons.

The Bruins could more accurately be described as a nice team that seems to enjoy living dangerously. If you keep playing with fire, though, you’re bound to get burned.

Yes, the Capitals have a crummy record in Game 7s (2-7), but the circumstances in this Boston series are different. In all the previous Game 7s, the Caps were coming off (a) two losses (1987, ‘92, ‘95, 2010), (b) a win (1988 vs. New Jersey, 2009) or (c) two wins (1988 vs. Philly, 2008, ‘09). That is, they were either in a downward spiral or (hypothetically) had a false sense of security.

Neither is the case now. The Capitals won Games 4 and 5, so there’s no downward spiral. And because they dropped Game 6, there shouldn’t be any false sense of security. (That’s my story, at any rate, and I’m sticking to it. As I said at the beginning, this column is all about hope. And as I’ve clearly demonstrated, there are no lengths I won’t go to.)

If you’re looking for historical parallels, let’s not forget that the only time the Caps went to the finals (1998), they lost two potential series-clinching games at home (to Boston and Buffalo) before finishing the job on the road. Granted, neither of those series went seven games, but I just thought I’d throw it out there.

Finally, there’s the whole Midseason Coaching Change Thing. Four of the past five times the Capitals made such a switch — in 1990 (Bryan Murray/Terry Murray), ‘94 (Terry Murray/Jim Schoenfeld), 2007 (Glen Hanlon/Bruce Boudreau) and this season (Boudreau/Dale Hunter) — they went to the playoffs, and twice (‘90 and ‘94, with the current series still pending) they reached at least the second round. So by that reckoning, they have a 50-50 chance to get past the Bruins.

See? It’s not all gloom and doom for the Caps. This Game 7 doesn’t have to be the exercise in despair that most of the others have been. There are any number of straws you can grasp if you’re so inclined. Heck, between now and faceoff, I might come up with a few more.

Have you noticed, for instance, that 1990, 1994 and 2012 are all even-numbered years? Or is that too much of a reach?