Learning Lessons

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Jason Chimera #25 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after he scored the game-winning goal in the second overtime period to give the Capitals a 4-3 win against Marian Gaborik #10 (2nd L) and goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 20, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
"Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it." – Winston Churchill

Every game in a playoff series could be defined as "pivotal" – whether it’s a team looking to send a message from the start or avoid a deeper hole, one team looking to maintain home ice advantage or the other’s looking to steal one in their opponent’s barn. Momentum shifts, confidence shifts, injuries, all are factors in how the series stands at any given moment.

For the Caps, however, it would seem that there is no more pivotal game than the one that faces them on Saturday. It’s certainly not a must-win – by the very definition of the phrase, it’s almost as far from a must-win as you could ask in a seven-game series – but it’s a should-win, a can-win and a dear-god-we-really-really-want-to-win. It’s a game heavy with expectations and laden with spirits of postseason disappointments past, of blown leads to lesser clubs in a season that seems otherwise destined to be a memorable one.

It's a game they need to send a message. So far in this postseason run we’ve seen the Caps squeak out an overtime series-opener, then come out and dominate a game for large stretches when they sought to put the Rangers in a 2-0 hole. We’ve seen them stumble and yet still just manage to come up only slightly short in their first playoff game away from the safe (and loud) confines of Verizon Center. Just last night, we watched as an abysmal second period gave way to an offensive burst and a well-timed bit of opportunism by Jason Chimera, accomplishing the most basic of missions: steal one in their building. And while this series has been thrilling and eventful and annoying as hell entertaining…it’s time to end it.

The question is, do they have what it takes?

We saw how they reacted to a similar situation last year, with Montreal seemingly on the ropes down 3-1; a brief span in Game 5 that was flat and disinterested put the series back in play and made the Canadiens think they could beat the Caps – until there they were in Game 7, doing just that. This year’s team has that lesson in the back of their minds but they also have the weight of expectations (their own and those of their fans), the fear of potential disappointment hanging over them. It’s a better team than last year’s, with perhaps better leadership and a more focused goal, but the Rangers aren’t a bad team and have certainly provided a significant obstacle to the Caps achieving that goal.

So the Caps need to take advantage of the momentum swinging their way for once. After a furious comeback and an overtime winner that should have ripped the hearts out of every skater in blue and every New York fan, now is the time. Take the lessons learned from last year and from the emotional inheritance from generations of former Caps who also fell short in the playoffs. Put the foot on the neck of the Rangers and end this, here, now, at home and in dominating fashion.

Because we all know one thing – the series isn’t over until someone wins four.

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