It may not be fair, but we all know what the narrative will be if the Washington Capitals lose Wednesday in New York.
Same old Caps. Can’t win the big game. We thought it was different this time. But it’s not.
Head coach Barry Trotz is hoping his team’s near comeback in Game 6 is proof that narrative can be avoided.
“I thought we had a lot of resiliency to fight back,” Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “I know this team has got a lot of character they showed during the year. Probably not the path when you’re up 3-1 that you want to take, but at the same time it’s a great opportunity in Game 7 to find out, I know this team very, very well, and it’s got a tremendous amount of character.”
The Caps have already come up big once in these playoffs, suffocating a dangerous Islanders team in Game 7 of the first round.
But that was at home. This one’s on the road, in “the lion’s den,” as Trotz puts it. The same rink, Madison Square Garden, where on Friday the Caps came 101 seconds from clinching their first trip to the conference finals since 1998.
You could make the argument that Wednesday will be the biggest game in Washington’s franchise history. You’d have some competition there, but you could put forth a few good reasons.
At the top of the list would be the opportunity for the Caps, should they beat the Rangers. Neither Montreal nor Tampa Bay, whoever comes out of that series, has looked entirely dominant in the playoffs. Beat the Habs or Lightning and it’s the Ducks or Blackhawks in the final. Two very good teams, yes, but beatable for sure.
There are 30 teams in the NHL. The league’s landscape changes by the year. These opportunities don’t come around all the time.
What’s more, this is not a particularly young Caps roster we’re talking about. Alex Ovechkin is nearly 30. This isn’t like, say, 2008-09 when Washington got bounced in the second round and it wasn’t the end of the world because he was only 23. Back then, Nicklas Backstrom was still just 21.
Since then, the Caps have only come close to escaping the second round once — in 2012, when they lost a Game 7 to the Rangers. At MSG.
“It’s disappointing,” Braden Holtby said then. “We really did believe in here that we had the team to do it all. We gave ourselves a great chance.”
The Caps have another “great chance” Wednesday. Whether they can take advantage remains to be seen.
Related: Messier moment? Ovechkin: ‘We’re going to come back and win the series’