So, Washington Capitals fans, what did you think? That this would be some kind of Moses Malone situation — “fo, fo, fo?”
Not even Moses’ famous prediction for his Philadelphia 76ers turned out to be a “fo, fo, fo” situation. They wound up losing one playoff game on their way to their NBA title in 1983, so that actually turned out to be a “fo, fi, fo.”
That may not be enough to ease the fears of Capitals fans. The only path to the Stanley Cup that may allow fans to breathe easy might have been by following Moses’ prediction, with another four added in — four playoff series — to the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals were on their way down that path, leading the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-0, in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Then they lost Game 4, 2-1, on Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center, and now the Capitals are in that familiar 3-1 series lead mode — the most frightening mode of all for Capitals fans — with Game 5 on Friday night at Verizon Center.
A 3-1 series lead may be worse than a 3-1 series deficit for Capitals fans.
This is ridiculous, of course. Technically, a series loss to the Flyers here wouldn’t even be blowing a 3-1 lead. It would be blowing a 3-0 lead, which would be a whole new version of playoff failure for this franchise. It has blown 2-0 series leads but never a 3-0 series lead, which it hadn’t even taken until Monday.
Do I think the Capitals will lose this series? Absolutely not. That doesn’t seem possible. If this Capitals team — the best in franchise history, the Presidents’ Trophy winners this season — loses to a lousy low-seed, low-life team like the Flyers, they should just fold up shop and start the Arena Football League season at Verizon Center.
But I’m sure at some point in 1987, it seemed ridiculous to suggest the Capitals would lose their first-round series to the New York Islanders after taking a 3-1 lead. It likely appeared to be an overreaction in 1992 to consider the Capitals losing the opening-round series to the Pittsburgh Penguins after leading 3-1 — or again in 1995.
And what did we hear last season, when the Capitals took a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers? How unfair it was to fear collapse. After all, this was a different cast of characters.
So here we are again — the Capitals up, 3-1, in a Stanley Cup playoff series
What could go wrong?
It’s a familiar question.
“It’s amazing in this league — if you give teams hope, what they can do with it,” Tom Wilson said on Thursday. “I mean, they win one game, they’re obviously feeling a lot better than being down 3-0. Then, say they get the second game, it can be a slippery slope, so when you have a team on the brink of elimination, you’ve got to make sure that you finish it and take care of business. That’s obviously something this team can do a better job at. Last year, we had opportunities to kind of send teams packing, but that was last year and we want to improve on that this year and hopefully, we can call it a series tomorrow night.”
General manager Brian MacLellan addressed the past collapses before this series began. He said, rightly so, that those memories will continue to prove to be the identity of this franchise until proven otherwise. He also suggested that the players would be best served by forgetting those failures.
That’s not going to happen now.
Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner was asked how the Capitals avoid the past and how they do not repeat what happened in the Rangers series last year.
“Just trying to remember the way that it felt, I guess,” he said. “We’re just a complete different team. It’s a completely different situation. We’re ready to bounce back. It was just not a good game. They threw everything they had at us and played a good game, and we didn’t a chance to really get the power play out there, which has been our bread and butter this series, so just go back at it, just [play] a better game.
“Their desperation level was higher than ours,” Alzner said of Wednesday night’s loss.
I don’t see how any team in the NHL could be more desperate to win a Stanley Cup playoff series than the Capitals.