WASHINGTON — How superstitious are you as a sports fan?
Are you the type that won’t sit until your team makes its first basket, or won’t leave your seat with a no-hitter intact, no matter how much you have to pee? Sure, maybe I still pound my mitt exactly three times while the WTOP softball team is on defense (you know, for strikes/outs) and clap exactly four times while we’re batting (for balls/runs), so maybe I’m a bit superstitious. But I don’t believe in curses anymore, and after what’s happened recently in the sports world, neither should Caps fans.
There have been articles written, despite the losses and 3-1 deficit to the Penguins, about how the Caps are generating more shots, about how their advanced stats show they are actually outplaying the Penguins. Like The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, I don’t care about any of that. Unlike Steinberg, though, I see no reason the results have to be the same moving forward.
The Caps have done plenty of good things in this series, but they’ve done plenty of dumb things, too. The own goal and offensive zone penalties from Game 4 stand out, in particular.
But they were the better team in the regular season. They’re healthier than the Penguins (with or without Sidney Crosby) and they have, in theory, the better goalie. Braden Holtby has not performed as well as Marc-Andre Fleury thus far, but he has saved a higher percentage of shots and allowed fewer goals throughout his career, especially this year.
To keep their season alive, they now need to win three straight games. They’ve had winning streaks of three or more games nine times this year, including a nine-game streak during which they handled Pittsburgh, 5-2. This may be unfamiliar playoff territory, but it’s something this team is certainly capable of doing.
Sure, of course they can pack it in. They can get blown out Saturday, or put their blinders on as they trudge to another moral victory. They can even lose in spectacular fashion, maybe in overtime again. For a long, long time, that’s what other seemingly cursed teams did, from the Boston Red Sox, to the Chicago Cubs, to every team from Cleveland.
But then a funny thing happened. Actually, a funny thing happened to each and every one of these teams. Through whatever combination of luck, pride and players stepping up in the big moments, they lifted themselves from the idea of a curse and prevailed.
It took the Red Sox being pushed past a point that they and any other team before them had ever recovered from, down three-games-to-none to the franchise that had tormented them for the better part of a century. Then the clock struck midnight. It took Dave Roberts (barely) stealing second, and Boston forcing extra innings against the best closer in the history of the sport.
It took a walk-off win, then another in extras the next night. And then, suddenly, it all came together.
The Cavs and Cubs each faced 3-1 deficits last season in their respective championships, the same uphill climb the Caps are staring at right now. Both teams actually had to win a pair of road games, something Washington won’t have to do, with two of the final three possible games coming at Verizon Center.
In so doing, they have only refocused the attention of Washington sports fans on their own title drought, and on Caps fans in particular on their lack of a championship, despite several President’s Trophies in the Ovechkin era. As the Nats have come up short in their own postseason runs, with a couple particularly brutal exits the past five seasons, the narrative has thickened. But that’s all it is — a narrative.
This isn’t some rah-rah, “You can do it,” “Win one for the Gipper” kind of rant. I’m not a Caps fan, or even a huge hockey fan. But I know from my fandom in other sports that sometimes you can get too wrapped up in the details, the history, the numbers, and the psychology. Really, there are just three games left, three potential wins to rewrite the story and make it all go away.
The rest of this series can bring more of the same for the Caps. But it doesn’t have to. They’ve got nothing to lose that they haven’t already lost before. But they’ve got the road map to success from the Red Sox, the Cavs and the Cubs.