- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009


Hockey teams tend to have tunnel vision during the playoffs. It’s the best way to block out the surrounding circus.

What’s that mantra of Ted Leonsis’? Oh, yeah: “One shift, one period, one game at a time.”

His Capitals, though, find themselves in an unusual situation. The NHL’s sadistic schedule-maker has given them back-to-back games Friday and Saturday against the Penguins, a veritable double feature that could tip the balance of the series. The Caps currently lead 2-1, but in the space of 27 hours, all kinds of things could happen.

1. The series could be over, with Washington moving on to the conference finals.

2. The series could be headed back to Pittsburgh, with the Pens trying to stave off elimination.

3. The series could be headed back to Pittsburgh, with the Pens - winners of three straight - looking to close it out.

Which scenario is the most likely? Well, according to my research, clubs have been faced with the Dreaded Double Dip a dozen times in the past four postseasons (2009 included). The results: eight splits and four sweeps.

So after all the checking and cross-checking are done, the Capitals stand a good chance of being ahead 3-2 going into Game 6 - at the very least. Especially when you consider this: Three of the four teams that pulled off sweeps had both games on their home ice. The Pens, of course, would have to win the second game of the “doubleheader” at the Phone Booth.

Still, as George McPhee said Thursday, “You don’t want to play back-to-back. Neither team wanted it.”

Is there a greater risk of a carry-over effect for the club that wins the first one?

“Could be, yeah.”

That wasn’t the case, though, when the Capitals and Flyers met twice in two nights at the end of their series a year ago. The Caps won at Wachovia Center to force a Game 7, and then Philly won at Verizon to advance to the next round.

“It’s playoff hockey,” David Steckel said, “so teams are going to play their best no matter what. It would be great, though, if we win Game 4 and we’re going into our barn for Game 5. That would be spectacular.”

Sergei Fedorov, whose 39-year-old body will be sorely - and I mean that literally - tested these next two days, doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about the extra exertion. You’d think he’d be sleeping in a tub of ice just to get his overtaxed muscles ready, but no, he said, “It’s going to be all about adrenaline. It doesn’t matter how you feel physically. Nothing is easy [in the playoffs], but I’ll be fine.”

Bruce Boudreau, naturally, is taking Boss Ted’s approach: “We’ll worry about Saturday [on] Saturday. We’re just going to prepare for [Game 4].” But if I were the Capitals’ coach, I might make a different kind of pitch to my players.

“Guys,” I’d say, “everything is out there for you in the next 27 hours. If you play the way you’re capable, you can win this series - right now. No need to come back to Pittsburgh. Two nights, two wins, and you can take a bit of a breather, maybe, while the other clubs are still beating each other up.

“And there might be even more at stake than that. Let’s look at the big picture. The Bruins have lost the home-ice advantage to the Hurricanes - and may not get it back. The Red Wings have done likewise against the Ducks [with Game 4 set for Thursday night]. If you finish off the Penguins, you can potentially start the next two series in your own building; you can potentially be the highest seed left.”

(Am I starting to sound like Kurt Russell in “Miracle” yet?)

“Part of winning the Stanley Cup is putting yourself in the best possible position,” I’d continue. “You got to play Game 7 of the Rangers series on your own ice because you earned it; you had a better regular season than the Rangers did. You got to play the first two games of the Penguins series on your own ice for the same reason: You earned it.

“Now another opportunity might be presenting itself. Boston might not get past Carolina. Detroit has its hands full with Anaheim, a team that’s been to two finals in recent years and is not to be trifled with. Do you want to win the Cup? In the next 27 hours, you can give this franchise a better chance to win the Cup than it’s ever had.

“OK, I’ve said my piece. There’s the door… and beyond it are the Penguins… and beyond the Penguins is… that’s for you to decide. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, fellas, and don’t forget to double-knot your laces.”

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