Exorcising Demons: Playoff Matchups With Demons of the Past


For the Washington Capitals, prospective opponents in the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoff series will remind their fans of past playoff demons. This is due to the fact that most of the potential opponents have dealt the Caps at least one heartbreaking playoff loss in the years gone by.

Round 1 – Metropolitan Division Semi Finals
The Washington Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers in Round one of the 2015-2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.  As most Caps fans who have followed the team long enough will recall, the Flyers were the team that beat them in Game 7 of Round one in the 2007-2008 playoff series.  Joffrey Lupul had scored a power play goal in Overtime for the Flyers. The Caps had also lost the first round to the Flyers in the first round back in 1989.

Round 2 – Metropolitan Division Finals
If the Caps survive their series against the Flyers, they will play the winner of the series between the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Rangers are the team who dealt the Caps their playoff loss in Round two last season (2014-2015) after the Caps had gotten off to a three games to one edge in the series.  The Caps lost three in a row, losing Games 5 and Game 7 in Overtime.  The Caps had also lost to the Rangers in their previous playoff appearances: Round 1 in 2012-2013 (Metropolitan Division Semi Finals) and Round 2 in 2011-2012 (Eastern Conference Semi Finals).  Their history is littered with other playoff losses to the Rangers, including losses during the 1985-1986 and the 1993-1994 playoffs.

The Caps playoff history against the Penguins is littered with even more heartbreak.  Their most recent playoff series loss to the Penguins was in Round 2 of the 2008-2009 playoffs.  Like the Penguins this year who caught fire after firing a head coach, replacing Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan, the Penguins of that year made a similar move.  Back in 2009, the Penguins found themselves out of playoff position in January and fired Head Coach Michel Therrien and replaced him with Don Bylsma.  The team got hot and finished fourth overall in the Eastern Conference.   They won a series with the Flyers while the Caps won a seven game series with the Rangers to set the stage. The Penguins won the series in 7 games and went onto win the Stanley Cup.

Before that season, the Caps had lost playoff series to the Penguins in the following seasons: 1990-1991, 1991-1992, 1994-1995, 1995-1996, 1999-2000, and 2000-2001.  In that time frame, the Caps had only taken a playoff series from the Penguins just once – winning Round 1 against them after the 1993-1994 season.

Round 3 – Eastern Conference Finals
If the Caps survive the Round 2 series against either the Penguins or the New York Rangers, they would play either the Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Detroit Red Wings, or the New York Islanders.   Of the teams listed, only the Florida Panthers have no series history with the Caps.  But there’s plenty of history involving the other teams listed.

The Caps were swept in the four game series against Tampa Bay in Round 2 after the 2009-2010 season.   Prior to that, they lost to the Lightning after the 2002-2003 season.  In that series, the Caps had gone up two games to none but then the Lightning won the next four games on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.

The Caps have only played the Red Wings in the playoffs once but that series was the Stanley Cup Final after the 1997-1998 season. The Red Wings swept the Caps in four games.

As for the New York Islanders, while the Caps were able to beat the Islanders last year in Round one, there is a long list of playoff heartbreaks for the Caps at the hands of that particular team.  Playoff losses happened after the 1982-1983, 1983-1984, 1984-1985, 19986-1987, and 1992-1993 seasons.   The most infamous of those losses was the “Easter Epic” where the Caps lost in quadruple Overtime on April 18, 1987 on a goal by Pat LaFontaine.

A trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the Caps this year would involve beating teams who had beaten them in past playoffs.  In other words, slaying demons of playoff series past.

By Diane Doyle

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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