- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

Losing? What’s this about?

The Washington Capitals hadn’t lost a game since March 19, and that came in Chicago.

Caps fans, who turned out red and raucous again yesterday, hadn’t seen their team lose at Verizon Center since March 9 against Pittsburgh. That loss came on the heels of a defeat against the Bruins in Boston — the last time the Caps lost two games in a row.

Just thought it would be important to present some facts about losing after yesterday’s 2-0 beating by the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center that evened this first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at one game each.

It has been a while since this team and its fans had to come to grips with a loss and how to come out of it.

Yet, if they had lost just one more game between March 19 and their April 5 victory over Florida in the regular-season finale, the Caps indeed would have learned to deal with defeat — from the comfort of their homes.

That strange set of circumstances — cornered, playing every game as if they had to win because indeed they did — came to define these Caps.

Winning became the norm. The team that couldn’t afford to lose never lost. The team that played in desperate circumstances played with desperate urgency.

Yesterday, that team was the Flyers, not the Caps.

“There was a sense of urgency about their team, that they just thought they should have won the last game [a 5-4 win by Washington Friday night], and they played better than us,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Give them credit. They made us look pretty bad, I thought, in a lot of ways.

“If it happens once, maybe we can learn a lesson from that — but hopefully not too much of a lesson.”

If there is a lesson, perhaps it is that playing in charge, with confidence and control, requires a whole different mind-set than playing from behind all the time.

Friday’s victory marked the first time the Caps were on top of anything for a while, and it was as if the role didn’t quite fit them.

Boudreau dismissed the notion that his team played differently yesterday because this time the season was not on the line as it had been so many times in the final weeks.

“I don’t think we got complacent in thinking that for once we don’t have a sense of urgency,” Boudreau said. “I don’t think that’s it at all. … Philadelphia outplayed us, outworked us and outwon the battles on us. We now know that we’ve got to pay a bigger price if we want to succeed.”

In other words, they have to play as if they are desperate again because that is how this team has learned how to win — or else they will have to learn a different way to succeed. Playing from behind for so long got the Caps to this point, but it is no way to survive the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“We can’t expect to come back from a two-goal deficit every night,” goalie Cristobal Huet said. “[The Flyers] worked very hard. … We are going to have to match that in the next game if we want to be successful. They were more desperate, and we’re going to have to realize that it’s going to take a lot more from everyone to be successful.”

The Flyers shut down Alex Ovechkin yesterday, like they did in Game 1 until he broke loose with his remarkable steal and game-winning goal.

Ovechkin said his team was “a little soft. We didn’t shoot the puck. We didn’t control the puck. … We didn’t play hard, and we didn’t play our style. It’s OK. It happens sometimes.”

It happened very few times in the last four weeks.

Boudreau has demonstrated the ability so far this year to quickly get his team back on course.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be a four-straight series,” he said. “We knew how much heart and character Philadelphia has, so now we have to show Philadelphia how much heart and character we have.”

Heart and character got the Caps this far.

To keep moving forward, though, this team also must show its talent and confidence, that it can play like the top dog instead of the underdog.

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