Could the curse of the Presidents’ Trophy continue? It sure seems that way as the Washington Capitals are on the verge of being sent home at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Two teams that have won the Presidents’ Trophy have come back from 3-1 series deficits to win and now the Caps will look to make it a third team.
The Caps, who had a dominant regular season, are now one game away from elimination after losing three-straight games to Pittsburgh. This will play out one of two different ways.
The first is obviously elimination and another disappointing ending for Alex Ovechkin and company. The other is playing every game from here on out with a sense of urgency and desperation.
The three-game suspension of defenseman Brooks Orpik could prove to be the difference maker of this series. Orpik was suspended for his hit on Olli Maatta in Game 2. What the loss of Orpik does is it forces the other Washington defensemen to play longer shifts, which fatigues them a lot quicker. Pittsburgh has won the first two games since Orpik was suspended and will go for the knockout punch Saturday night.
Aside from the suspension, the Caps ran into arguably the hottest net minder of the playoff in 21-year old Matt Murray, who has won a Penguins rookie record six games in the postseason in relief of the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray has been terrific in this series and is arguably the biggest reason Pittsburgh has a 3-1 series lead. The rookie is showing he isn’t scared of the bright lights against the team that won the most games in the regular season.
After splitting the first two games of the series, Washington has fallen to Pittsburgh twice by scores of 3-2 with Game 4 ending in overtime at the hands of Patric Hornqvist, who beat Braden Holtby five-hole just 2:34 into overtime. The win came despite not having defenseman Kris Letang, as he was serving a one-game suspension of his own.
If you are a Caps fan, the feeling has to be “oh no, not again,” as the Caps are usually one of the top teams in the league, but fail to get it done when it counts the most; the postseason. This is likely the best team the Caps have had since Ovechkin has been in the league, but are now on the brink of being sent home without the Stanley Cup.
Speaking of Mr. Ovechkin, he hasn’t lived up to his normal top-three players in the world moniker in this series, registering just one goal and two assists. If Washington wants to avoid early tee time and yet another disappointing ending to a season, Ovechkin has to step up and be one of the best three players in the world. He has just eight points in this year’s playoffs. There is now even more pressure for Ovechkin to get over the playoff hurdle and get past his nemesis in Sidney Crosby.
Washington now has to come out swinging will all guns blazing starting Saturday on home ice. Winning three consecutive games against a high-powered team like the Penguins will be no easy feat, especially since the Penguins haven’t lost consecutive games since the middle of January. The suspension of Orpik, thus far, has proven to be a costly one for the Caps.
It’s time for Washington to dig deep or yet again, will be faced with a long offseason full of what ifs. This series had all the makings to be another seven-game classic, but so far, the Penguins have taken it to the Caps. Washington can’t win three in a row without winning Game 5 on Saturday. The focus should all be on Game 5 and not looking ahead to potential Games 6 and 7.