Here we go again, Washington.
The Capitals -- winners of this season's Presidents' Trophy -- look to be on the verge of yet another postseason collapse. They escaped Game 1 of their first-round series against the inexperienced Toronto Maple Leafs with an overtime victory at home, but then dropped two straight games that also went beyond regulation, including a game in which Washington blew a 3-1 lead.
Given that this is the second straight season, and the third in eight years, that the Capitals have had the best regular season record in the NHL, the pressure is on them to finally make a run for the Stanley Cup.
It's been nearly 20 years since the franchise's only appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, in which they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Only one other time in their history have the Caps even made a conference final, and that was in 1990.
Despite all that crushing failure, there had been a different mood for Caps fans this year, a sense that the team was finally on the verge of breaking through. Defensively, the Caps have excelled and they picked up Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline to shore up depth.
And yet the team still finds itself in a precarious position through three games of an opening round playoff series against a young Toronto squad with 10 players making their playoff debut.
CAPITALS FANS ARE EXTREMELY CONCERNED pic.twitter.com/39aDWSEsoo- Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) April 18, 2017
Part of the worry: There's no team in the NHL with more overtime playoff losses over the last decade than the Capitals. Obviously that history has no real bearing on any single game, but letting an inexperienced squad hang around long enough to bury a sudden-death goal is the stuff upsets are made of.
The Caps held a 3-1 lead at the midpoint of Game 3, and easily could have led by more, when Toronto crept back into the game. That's not what you want to see out of the veteran team in a series, especially one that has preached hard work over sheer skill all season.
A Washington victory in Game 4 would not only tie the series at 2-2, it would regain home ice advantage for the Caps. The team's history of postseason failure will be a big talking point for as long as they're in contention, but will fade considerably if they show resiliance and even the series.
This is understandably difficult for Caps fans, but they should know as well as any fan base that playoff series leads can be short-lived. In eight of their nine playoff defeats at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins over the last two and a half decades, the Caps have led at some point in the series. Being a champion means being challenged and showing the mettle to overcome. Better they display that early in the playoffs and know that they are prepared for a fight later on.
You know, assuming they get that far.