On Sunday, the Capitals became only the sixth team in NHL history to lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series in overtime at home. Given the franchise’s tortured playoff history, overtime heartbreak included, it’s surprising that a previous edition of the Capitals isn’t among the five teams who endured this double dose of sudden-death disappointment.
The last NHL team to lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home in overtime was the New Jersey Devils, who did so in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final against the Kings. Like the previous four teams in this exclusive club, the Devils would eventually lose the series, falling in six games. In other words, if the Capitals are to advance to the second round for a fourth straight year, they’ll have to make some more NHL playoff history, this time of the good variety. No team that has fallen behind two-games-to-none with consecutive overtime losses at home has even managed to force a Game 7.
In the 2003 Western Conference semifinals, Peter Sykora’s goal in the fifth overtime of Game 1 lifted the Mighty Ducks to a 4-3 win over the Stars at Dallas’s American Airlines Center. Two nights later, the Mighty Ducks won 3-2 in overtime en route to a 4-2 series win.
In a 1980 quarterfinal matchup, the Islanders eliminated the Bruins in five games after stealing Games 1 and 2 with consecutive overtime wins at Boston.
In the 1977 semifinals, the Bruins swept the Flyers after taking a 2-0 series lead with a pair of overtime wins in Philadelphia.
In the 1951 semifinals, the Canadiens defeated the Red Wings, 3-2, in four overtimes in Game 1. Montreal needed one fewer overtime to win Game 2, 1-0, and eventually won the series in six games. The Canadiens went on to lose the Stanley Cup to the Maple Leafs in five games, with every contest decided in overtime.
According to Hockey Reference, teams that lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have come back to win the series 19 times in 103 attempts. The Capitals have done it once, in 2009, and if you’re looking for a sign of hope, it happened against the John Tortorella-led New York Rangers. Tortorella was suspended for Game 6 of that series at Madison Square Garden after squirting a fan with water and throwing a water bottle into the stands during the Capitals’ Game 5 win at Verizon Center. Washington also forced a Game 7 after losing the first two games of last year’s second round series against the Penguins at home, but couldn’t complete the comeback in D.C. Overall, the Capitals are 1-6 in series in which they trail 2-0.
The most Capitals outcome for this series, of course, would be a Game 7 multiple-overtime loss at Capital One Arena on April 25 that ends closer to Metro’s opening time the following morning than Metro’s closing time that night. (Just getting to a Game 7 would be an accomplishment, though a sweep might be preferable to this all-too-realistic possibility.)
“Well, you didn’t see handshakes, so you’re not done yet,” Capitals play-by-play man Joe Beninati said when asked to provide some reason for optimism on NBC Sports Washington after Sunday’s overtime loss. “You look at it as a very difficult assignment, obviously, to win four of the next five, with several of those coming in Nationwide Arena. You can’t think of it that way. You have to go there and do the old one-game-at-a-time thing. But this is awfully disappointing, especially for the Caps to have taken two-goal leads in both of these games, let both of them wriggle off the hook. It’s something we thought they would’ve learned from a season ago. Apparently not.”
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