- - Friday, April 13, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Can someone call the National Zoo Friday morning? They open at 8 a.m.The number is 202-633-4888.

Can you ask them to send all the camels that they have down to the Capital One Arena? In fact, any animals they have with a hump?

It’s clear the Washington Capitals don’t appreciate the postseason hump they carried into the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday night at the arena, because they only made it bigger by blowing a gift of a 2-0 lead, losing game one in overtime 4-3 to the first wild-card team in the Metro Division, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It was perhaps the worst first-round Game 1 playoff loss the Capitals have suffered since the infamous 3-2 overtime loss to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in 2010.

That was a few humps ago.

Columbus literally handed Washington a 2-0 lead in the first period when Josh Anderson received a five-minute boarding penalty near the end of the period and was ejected for slamming Michale Kempny, who left the ice looking shaky and never returned.

Evgeny Kutnetsov scored a power-play goal 28 seconds later, and followed it up quickly with a second power-play score 29 seconds later, giving Washington and starting goalie Philipp Grubauer – getting the start in place of Braden Holtby —what should have been comfortable 2-0 lead.

The problem, though, is the same problem that has plagued the Capitals in the Alex Ovechkin era (no points) — too comfortable, no sense of urgency and playing with the fear that once again, the hump will crush them like it did Thursday night.

When Columbus coach John Tortorella described his star player — Artemi Panarin, who scored the winning overtime goal on a beautiful shot over the left shoulder of Grubauer, he said this: “A guy that makes something out of nothing. Makes a great play on the tying goal and scores the goal that a lot of people can’t score in this league. That is sometimes the difference between winning and losing…..Big game players, that’s important if you want to find your way in high stakes games.”

That would translate the “O” in Alex Ovechkin to “Ouch.”

Here’s how the Capitals didn’t play Thursday night — and rarely do in the playoffs:

“We just stayed with it,” Tortorella said when asked about how his team responded being down 2-0 in the first period. “There was no panic on the bench … this is different. We were having a ball. There was no nervousness. The players were having a ball.”

Washington coach Barry Trotz didn’t exactly have the same take on his team’s effort.

“I thought it was almost three different games,” he said. “The first period we were very disciplined, we carried the play, obviously we got our power play goals. Second period, you know they’re going to have a push, I thought in the first part of that period they were a little stronger than us on the puck, I thought we got it back toward the end of that period. Then obviously in the third period they get it tied, we get the lead, we take three penalties in the third period, putting us in a position where we are going to overtime.”

Three games? The Capitals struggle with one.

So much for the notion that because this team wasn’t as good in the regular season as past Capitals teams have been, they’ll be better in the postseason. Somebody clean up that camel mess.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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