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Game 5: Flyers @ Caps

[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]

After losing Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series, the Caps had a choice - they could get busy livin' or get busy dyin'. Knowing these Caps, there was never a choice at all, and you can expect one of the team's best efforts of the season tomorrow afternoon at Verizon Center.

Thursday night was a turning point for these young Caps, whether it manifests itself in a win Saturday or not. But don't take my word for it - here's the boss:
Our team is bigger and tougher than the Flyers. They know it now and we know it now.

We now know how to play playoff hockey, NHL style.
From the top down, they're saying all the right things, and they believe every word of it.

In theory, at least, the mountain standing before the Caps at present isn't unscalable - win at home (where they were 23-15-3 this year), win in Philly with all the pressure in the world on the Flyers to close out the series at home (where, incidentally, the Caps have won four of their last six games), then come back home and finish the series with a victory over a similarly young team in the midst of an epic collapse.

In practice, of course, that's much easier said than done. Only twenty times in NHL history has a team come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series (the Caps have been involved in four of those series, including 1988's comeback win against the Flyers) out of 219 such situations.

"Twenty?" defenceman Steve Eminger asked on Friday. "Why not 21?"

Indeed.

But win or lose, the Caps will look back on Thursday night as something of a coming of age. Win or lose, this Flyers team has provided the perfect playoff baptism for these Caps. They do a lot of what you need to do to win in the playoffs, and they've exposed precisely the "right" Caps weaknesses. Had the Caps met the Penguins or Canadiens in the first round and fallen short, they'd probably be able to convince themselves rather easily that they were out-skilled. But this Flyers team - through three games - showed the Caps that they were being out-worked and out-muscled. And come springtime in the NHL, it's those latter attributes that are the far more valuable to possess.

This series is far from over. Or perhaps the end is nigh. But coming back from a 3-1 deficit isn't impossible, despite that 20-for-219 number. To put that stat in apples-to-oranges perspective, the Beatles recorded 214 songs from 1962 to 1970 and had 20 Number One singles. In other words, the Caps have about as much chance of winning this series as Lennon/McCartney had of writing a chart-topping single in their prime.

Sounds pretty easy now, doesn't it?

DSB