The Washington Capitals will try to extend their season a few more days with a victory over the Boston Bruins on Sunday. If the Caps lose, a few thousand fans at Capital One Arena will witness Washington drop the opening series of the playoffs for the third season in a row. They are currently down 3-1 in their best-of-seven first round series against Boston.
Four seasons ago, though, the Capitals were nearly finished in the first round. They were about to go down 3-0 to the Blue Jackets when they were saved by a goal post in Columbus. Then they went on the win the series and the Stanley Cup in 2018.
“We’ve been down like this before,” Nicklas Backstrom said after the Capitals’ 4-1 defeat in Game 4. “You’ve just got to take it one shift, one game at a time from now on.”
Overall, the Capitals have been outclassed in the series. After taking Game 1 in overtime, Washington faltered in the next two games, though those also took extra time to decide. The series is the first go to overtime in the opening three games since the epic Capitals-Blue Jackets affair in 2018, showing the final results have not been inevitable.
“It’s not over,” Backstrom said. “Somehow we have to get our confidence back here.”
But Game 4 was not a game that hung on a knife’s edge. Instead, it was an embarrassment for Washington. The Bruins dominated the Capitals at even strength. Washington committed self-inflicted wounds and found themselves on the penalty kill seven times. Save for a pinballing goal by Alex Ovechkin, the power play was impotent and is 3 for 17 in the series. Many of the team’s top players are struggling, some likely playing hurt.
But not everyone is lifeless in red, white and blue. After surprisingly being thrown into the series after a long absence on the NHL’s COVID-protocol list, Ilya Samsonov has turned into two excellent games. Despite one particularly boneheaded moment, the young Russian has made some athletic, masterful saves.
Playing in the playoffs for the first time, Samsonov is undoubtedly Washington’s best player at the moment. He has made 73 saves in his 142 minutes of action, during which he received limited help from his defense. His backup, Craig Anderson, was Washington’s savior at the start of the series when he was forced into unexpected action 13 minutes into Game 1 when Vikek Vanecek, the team’s starting goalie, was injured.
Playoff success often hinges on a hot goalie. If the Capitals can turn into a performance more representative of the team that finished above Bruins in East Divison during the regular season, Samsonov and even Anderson have shown themselves capable of stealing victories for Washington.
National Hockey League teams have come back to win a best-of-seven series 29 times. The NHL has perhaps the most exciting playoffs in sports, primarily because of its wild unpredictability. Unfortunately, the Capitals will most likely lose this series. Still, the Bruins sit at three wins. The buzzer has yet to sound on a fourth.
“We have 48 hours to regroup here, and I want to see a different team in Game 5 at home,” Lars Eller said Friday night. “I believe we can do that. I’ve seen it before.”