- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

There have been several points during this journey the Washington Capitals are on when it appeared like the end was near.

This team couldn’t make the playoffs after it started 6-14-1. Not when the Caps climbed out of last place in the Eastern Conference in late December. Not after losing to the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes twice in February. Not after losing three straight before the trade deadline or after two psyche-crushing losses in one weekend in early March.

“I’ve got a favorite saying: ‘The things that are the most rewarding are the thing that people say you can’t do in life,’ ” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Down the stretch, one of our motivators was that nobody said we could make the playoffs and here we are.”

Added forward Brooks Laich: “People have counted us out before. They’ve written us off and said, ‘Oh, it was a good push and a good story.’ Now I think some people are waiting for us to die, but we feel like we’ve got a lot to give. We think this is going to be a long series still.”

After succumbing to the Philadelphia Flyers in double overtime Thursday night, Washington has reached another one of those points. Down 3-1 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Caps play host to the Flyers this afternoon.

One more loss, and this magical run that began when Boudreau was hired on Thanksgiving ends. Another loss and the first playoff experience for 14 of these youthful Caps ends almost before it started.

“You still have to win four games to take the series,” Laich said. “If we win Game 5, then the pressure is on them to win in their building. If we come in their building and surprise them, then it is a one-game playoff. We don’t think we’re out of it. We’re still loose and ready for this game tomorrow.”

Added Boudreau: “It is like Rocky getting knocked down eight times and then realizing he’s still in the fight and he’s not knocked out yet. We’re still there, and we’ll fight until we do get knocked out.”

Twenty times in NHL playoff history a team has erased a 3-1 deficit. The Caps accomplished the feat in the 1988 Patrick Division semifinals against the Flyers. In that series, Philadelphia also won Game 4 at home in overtime.

While historically it has been tough for the losing team to recover from a multi-overtime playoff loss, the Caps may have hope in their youth. Their legs recover quicker for a start time slightly more than 38 hours after Game 4’s end and resolve could develop from the effort they put forth in the loss.

After consecutive games where the Flyers outmuscled and outhustled the Caps, Washington pushed back Thursday night. It started barely more than a minute into the game, when Alexander Semin got into a shoving match in the corner. Eventually, all 10 players were involved — including Backstrom’s mini-confrontation with Danny Briere.

Both Semin and Backstrom appeared emboldened by the scrum, and they proceeded to put forth their best efforts of the series.

“It wakes you up a little bit,” Laich said. “I was out there and in the middle of it. It gets the adrenaline going, and you’re in a playoff game. You just ramp up for every shift.”

Should the Caps need guidance in this situation, two players on the roster have played for teams who rallied from a 3-1 deficit.

Sergei Fedorov’s Detroit Red Wings did it in 1992 against the Minnesota North Stars. He counts his overtime winner in Game 6 as one of his favorites as an NHL player.

“We have to move on. We have to forget that experience whether it is winning or losing,” Fedorov said. “That’s what I learned before the most. Talking about ‘92, I was young and it was just exciting to be in the playoffs. If you feel positive and think positive for a day or two, you can be fine. You come back with a new attitude and you can be rejuvenated.”

Matt Cooke experienced both sides of the comeback in the same season. His Vancouver Canucks came all the way back against St. Louis in the 2003 quarterfinals but then watched a 3-1 series advantage evaporate against the Minnesota Wild in the next round.

“The biggest thing was just focus individually on each game,” Cooke said. “We had confidence in that room that we could beat them, and it was just a matter of taking care of business. It is no different than what we did the last 15 games here. We were in must-win situations, and we did it. All we have to worry about is tomorrow and go from there.”

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