1. Gone in 29 Seconds
Life comes at you fast. One moment, you’re skating in on the opposing goalie all alone with a chance (or two!) to win the game in overtime and not a half minute later, you’re hanging your head on the bench and facing an 0-3 series deficit. Such was Jakub Vrana’s Sunday afternoon:
Twenty-nine seconds. Frankly, it felt like less.
To be sure, Vrana (whose stunning lack of playoff production on Saturday) is only to blame for (at most) half of that equation; we’re looking at you, John Carlson and Brenden Dillon (pro-tip: don’t let the other team’s best player get behind you). But if there was ever a perfect encapsulation of the difference between this year and 2018, this might be it: Vrana, who opened the scoring in the Cup-winning game with a breakaway goal gets stuffed here, and the Caps’ neutral zone play, which was so strong in ‘18 fails them leaving Braden Holtby to make a big save that he simply wasn’t able to.
Stanley Cups don’t usually happen without good fortune, and the Caps certainly haven’t had luck on their side through three games with the Isles. Stanley Cups also don’t usually happen without good play, and, well...
2. Low Fives
Through three games, the Caps have two even-strength goals, both potted in Game 2 by the greatest goal-scorer of all-time. And this isn’t really even about Semyon Varlamov, who has been good, but hardly tested. To wit, this cumulative five-on-five shot chart for the series so far:
The Caps have been more than doubled-up in expected goals (6.16 to 3.01) and high-danger chances (35-15) and are roughly 40/60 in the other shot metrics. Cal Clutterbuck has more high-danger chances (five) than any Cap (Tom Wilson’s four lead the way); Matt Martin has been credited with as many scoring chances (four) as T.J. Oshie in half the ice time. Sunday’s Game 3 may have been “better” in some respects (primarily the respect that matters most), but it was still terrible and very much in line with the two games that preceded it.
Six shots on net for #Caps in first. Two from forwards (Dowd, Hagelin), both while shorthanded. Three at evens, all from Dmen. Closest they got to NY net was Jensen shot from 44 feet at 1:27. #CapsIsles— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) August 16, 2020
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a period with no shots from below the top of the circle for this club. That’s... something. https://t.co/hdoGgsNxvk— Japers' Brink (@JapersRink) August 16, 2020
And here’s an interesting note:
During 5v5, John Carlson has been on ice for 6 Isles goals and 0 Caps goals. If he wins the Norris, then we need to abolish the Norris.— Peter Hassett (@peterhassett) August 16, 2020
For what it’s worth, Alex Ovechkin has been on for two Caps goals (duh) and none against. Maybe we should give him the Selke.
The Caps are shooting 3.9% at five-on-five right now and stopping 89.2% of Isles shots. As a point of reference, over the regular season, those numbers were 9.4% and 91.3%, respectively. So, sure, there’s some “puck luck” going against them right now. But it ain’t just about bad luck any more than it’s just about the players.
3. Could it Happen?
So what’re the chances the Caps can dig out of this hole and win the series? Cue Lloyd Christmas. Per WhoWins.com, teams up 3-0 in any sport’s best-of-seven have a 362-5 (.986) series record (including a 98-1 (.990) first-round record). The “good” news? Of those five comebacks, four have happened in the NHL, where teams up 3-0 “only” have a 189-4 (.979) record. A bit more historical background on these two clubs, via Who Wins:
When leading a best-of-7 MLB/NBA/NHL playoff series 3-games-nil, the New York Islanders have a series record of 10-0 and a Game 4 record of 7-3 (with an active four-Game 4 winning streak). When trailing a best-of-7 MLB/NBA/NHL playoff series 3-games-nil, the Washington Capitals have a series record of 0-5 and a Game 4 record of 2-3.
Of course, the Caps are saying the right things...
Alex Ovechkin: "It's not over yet."— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) August 16, 2020
Tom Wilson: "Obviously our backs are against the wall, but it starts with one."— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) August 16, 2020
Compound the deficit and the odds against them with the way they’ve actually played and the awkwardness of the environment in which they’re living, and it’s an incredibly daunting task ahead of them. But this is 2020 and a Caps comeback wouldn’t even be in the top-10 most unimaginable things we’ve seen actually happen this year; it’d be nice for some good insanity for a change.