- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

Back in November, when the Washington Capitals were 8-14-1, they were having fun.

“Once they taste the success, you get hungrier for it,” new coach Bruce Boudreau said after the team’s second straight win since he took over. “It is great to be happy. When you are losing, you get dejected and it is no fun. Life is no fun.”

The Capitals haven’t tasted success in a week.

They are not happy.

They are dejected.

Life is not fun.

It has been a long time for these young Capitals since life has been this short on fun. Since November, they have not experienced a stretch of failure like they have in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, down 3-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers and facing elimination today in Game 5 at Verizon Center.

Back in November, this talented but inexperienced unit was learning how to win together one step at a time under Boudreau, after losing for the previous two years and the start of this season under former coach Glen Hanlon. They learned their lesson pretty well, coming back after a 6-14-1 start to post a regular season record of 43-31-8, winning 11 of their final 12 regular-season games to capture a playoff spot in the final game.

The Capitals had, for the most part, tasted success for five months. They were the first NHL team in history to come back from 14th or 15th place in the middle of the season to make the playoffs. Before Boudreau took over, they had come from behind to win just once. After Boudreau took over, 17 of their 36 wins were comeback victories.

They were happy.

Life was fun.

Losing had become an unfamiliar taste.

Now, after three straight playoff losses to Philadelphia, in particular Thursday night’s 4-3 double overtime loss, the taste of losing is in their mouths again.

They would love to do nothing better than what they did back in November — spit it out, at least for one game today before the hometown fans who have embraced this team.

This is a taste, though, that they may have to live with until next season and learn the lesson of what it takes to taste success in the playoffs.

Boudreau isn’t interested in any more lessons.

“We want to win,” he said. “That is a bunch of [nonsense] and stuff that people make up, that it’s a young team and are looking for an excuse. We want to win, nothing had changed.

“After that home game we lost [2-0 in Game 2], nothing has changed,” Boudreau said after Thursday night’s loss in Philadelphia. “We had to win the rest of our home games, and we still have to win one here. If you look at it as three games, then it looks like a daunting task. Nothing has changed except the game number that you have to win here.”

Boudreau said he has been through this before, when he was the coach and director of hockey operations for the Mississippi Sea Wolves in the East Coast Hockey League in 1999. They were down in a series 3-1 and came back to win the league’s Kelly Cup championship.

That was a different century. It doesn’t happen very often.

It has happened 20 times in the Stanley Cup playoffs. One of those playoff comebacks, of course, was engineered by the Capitals in 1988 — against this same franchise. The Flyers had taken a 3-1 lead over Washington, but the Capitals came back to win three straight and capture the series. It was set up the same way — going home for Game 5, Game 6 in Philadelphia and Game 7 back home in the District.

But that was 20 years ago. Alex Ovechkin was 2 years old.

Life is fun for the Flyers. They are happy. They withstood the best effort Washington has produced in the playoffs Thursday night and still won. And they will leave Washington today happy unless one of two things happens — either Philadelphia has a letdown, or Ovechkin finds a way to impose his will.

Ovechkin has one goal in the series, the same amount as Donald Brashear Boudreau has said throughout the series that his team is more than just Alex Ovechkin, but they need him now to be their team.

“You never give up,” Ovechkin said. “It’s not over yet.”

Not yet. But Ovechkin has to deliver a memorable playoff performance, one that puts the fun back in Fun Street — one that gets rid of the taste of losing.

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