In the new world order of Washington sports, past failures are now meaningless. Every day is a new day.
This would be known as the “denial” stage of grief.
The narrative being woven following the Washington Capitals’ 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night is that this is not like all the other Game 7 losses.
Blowing a 3-1 lead in the series was not like all the other blown two-game leads.
It’s as if the world began and ended with Game 7 in New York — a noble, gusty effort in a hard-fought series.
“This is a new group,” coach Barry Trotz said following the loss. “This is a new team. Our organization is changing. We learned from our history, and we’re looking it right in the eye. We went after this game. There was no nervousness on our part. We went after the New York Rangers at their own barn and almost pulled it off. I said to them all year, ‘Defeat is not your undertaker. It should be your teacher.’ I’ll tell you what — we learned a lot. We have some young kids that learned a lot, and we had some great veterans, so you’re going to see the Washington Capitals back here again.”
If defeat is your teacher, the Capitals should be graduating magna cum laude in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Instead, they keep repeating the same grade.
The fact is Game 7 was not just one game. It was one game in a series of games — a series of games the Capitals led, 3-1, and seemed on the verge of clinching with less than two minutes left in Game 5. Then they lost. And they lost Game 6. And they lost Game 7.
They hadn’t lost three consecutive games since the end of February.
In other words, this team didn’t make a habit of losing three consecutive games. And despite the denials, that qualifies as a choke, a collapse, whatever you want to call it. And despite the denials, that is the identity of the Washington Capitals.
Washington is now responsible for five out of the 28 blown 3-1 leads in NHL history. And they’ve compiled that record despite just being in existence since 1974, and only since their playoff history began in 1983.
The players themselves know Game 7 and this series doesn’t stand on its own. They recognize the burden of the Capitals’ playoff record.
“I thought this was going to be the year we were going to break through,” Eric Fehr told reporters.
He thought this would be different. It wasn’t.
“I think we played the right way,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I would say it’s two times in the playoffs we’ve been playing the right way. It was this, and the time we had Dale Hunter.”
Backstrom reached back into the past to find the place this franchise had been before in 2012 — a Game 7, 2-1 loss to the Rangers in New York, which was supposed to be the start of something different.
Yet here they are, right back where they were then — making tee times, or in Alex Ovechkin’s case, making plans to join the Russian national team at the world championships, his annual rite of spring.
So it is year 2015, and if you had a son or daughter who was born after 1998, they have never lived in a world where the Washington Capitals have made it past the second round — not once to the Eastern Conference finals.
You’re supposed to ignore that? Why? Because the guy in charge during that record of futility — former general manager George McPhee — is gone?
What was new GM Brian MacLellan when he was a scout, director of player personnel and assistant general manager for 13 years here in Washington? An innocent bystander?
And what about Barry Trotz? Everyone loves Trotz, but how does he skate when Bruce Boudreau’s feet were held to the fire?
Before his Anaheim Ducks defeated the Calgary Flames in overtime in game five of the Western Conference semifinals, the Los Angeles Times wrote this about Boudreau, the former Capitals coach:
“It has become an unavoidable part of any conversation about Bruce Boudreau, sometime after acknowledging he was voted coach of the year for turning around the Washington Capitals in 2007-08, won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top team with them in 2009-10, and guided the Ducks to three straight Pacific division titles after he headed west.
“In six tries — four with the Capitals and two with the Ducks — Boudreau hasn’t gotten past the second round of the playoffs. There’s no way to tiptoe around it. There are reasons and unhappy circumstances, good reasons in most cases.”
Apparently, though, Trotz doesn’t have to answer the same questions — even though this series marked the eighth time in his coaching career, seven times in Nashville and now once in Washington — his team has failed to make it past the second round.
I’m sure there are reasons and unhappy circumstances for it — good reasons, in most cases. But if you are a Washington Capitals fan, you are in the same place you seem to always be — waiting a full year to see if this organization can move forward.
There’s nothing new about that.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.