- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Much of the front row of the Verizon Center press box spent its time before the start of Game 6 on Sunday night trying to determine how historically epic a failure it would be for the Washington Capitals to blow a 3-1 lead to the New York Rangers in this best-of-seven, second round Stanley Cup playoff series.

Less than a minute into the start of the game, we had a feeling it wasn’t a waste of time.

The Rangers broke through the mighty Braden Holtby just 40 seconds into the first period, on a goal by Chris Kreider, as the Capitals‘ chronic attention deficit disorder problems popped up again at a bad time.

Sometimes it’s as if the Capitals need to get a cup of coffee and a chance to read the paper before the start of play — and of all times, when a sense of urgency was needed from the drop of the puck.

Washington needed to approach Game 6 at home as if it was they, and not the Rangers, who were on the brink of being eliminated, because no one should feel good about going back to Madison Square Garden for a game seven Wednesday night.

Some suggested the Capitals did just that — played like it was a typical Washington elimination game.

“It’s one game,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Loser goes home. I don’t think you say there is more pressure on us than them. No matter what, someone’s going home.”

I think Capitals fans are very familiar with how the process works.

After taking the early 1-0 lead, the Rangers bookended their first period with another Kreider score with less than one second — one second — left in the first period to take a 2-0 lead. New York had opened the period with an attack on Holtby — 20 shots on goal — and didn’t stop until it was over.

The Capitals hardly folded, though. Whatever was said in that locker room between periods worked better than a bowl full of Ritalin to get this team to pay attention. They out shot the Rangers, 18-4, in the second period, but came away with just one goal — and, like the Rangers to start the game, it came  from Jason Chimera after just 28 seconds into the second period.

New York seemingly put the game away with a 4-1 lead with goals by Rick Nash (again, with less than a minute gone in the third period) and Dan Boyle, but Washington answered back with goals from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward. The Rangers, though, hung on for the 4-3 win, thanks to their penalty kill at the end of the game.

The Capitals, once in control, now seem lost. The best power play in hockey this season went 0-for-4 Sunday night and has just one goal to show for 12 opportunities.

This was the first time Washington had lost back-to-back games since March 13. They had come back from losses four times so far in these playoffs before losing Game 5, 2-1, on Friday night in overtime in New York and then Sunday night’s 4-3 loss at Verizon Center. It was their first home loss since they opened the playoffs on April 15 with a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

So here it is, the sad song that will be sung from now until Wednesday night in New York: The Capitals have blown more 3-1 playoff series leads than any other NHL franchise, losing four times after being up by that margin in the series. Consider that the Montreal Canadiens have been in existence since 1909, the Capitals since 1974, and the Capitals didn’t start to even get a chance to fail in the playoffs until they made it for the first time in 1983.

There was 1987, when they lost to the New York Islanders after taking a 3-1 lead. Five years later, the Capitals blew a 3-1 series lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Three years later, a repeat — leading Pittsburgh 3-1, only to go on to lose the seven-game series. Then, the most recent epic failure — going into the first round as the No. 1 seed, the Presidents’ Trophy winners as the best team in the regular season, on their way to eliminating the eighth-seeded Canadiens with a 3-1 lead, only to — well, you know.

Now the new world order of Washington sports will be put to the ultimate test — the Paul Pierce last-second bank shot, the Bryce Harper game-winning home runs, the sense that what has always gone wrong before will go right now — on Wednesday night in New York.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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