The Capitals have advanced to the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals as part of a playoff run with that has had many twists and turns, including events in each round that caused both fans and media members to wonder if the round would end badly for the Caps, given their past playoff history. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle takes a look at the team’s parallels to another team’s successful run.
There was once another team who also had a deep run in the playoffs, but due to their own past history, the twists and turns of that series also caused their fans and the media, to doubt them. In this case, the playoff run for this other team featured the following:
- A Head Coach whose teams had never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs, despite having a team who finished with the best record in the Conference in the regular season
- A team who played a longtime rival who had a better record against them in a playoff series
- A team falling behind in a playoff series 2-0, losing the first two games at home
- A team playing a rematch against a team to whom they had experienced an epic collapse a year earlier
Many of those elements sound extremely familiar to Washington Capitals fans. However, the team in the case is not this year’s edition of the Capitals or even any past edition of the Capitals but the 2010-11 Boston Bruins.
Prior to the 2017-18 season, Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz, had never coached a team past the second round of the playoffs. This was true during his first three seasons with the Caps as well as the 15 years he spent coaching the Nashville Predators. This included two consecutive years of the Caps winning the Presidents’ Trophy (best record), but failing to advance past Round 2 of the playoffs.
During the 2010-11 season, the Boston Bruins’ Head Coach was Claude Julien. He had coached the Bruins the prior three seasons and, before that, had coached the New Jersey Devils for one season and the Montreal Canadiens for three seasons. Like Trotz, Julien had never coached a team past the second round of the playoffs. This included the 2008-09 season in which the Bruins finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference but lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Carolina Hurricanes. Prior to that, he had coached the New Jersey Devils to first place in the Atlantic Division and second in the conference, but the team lost to the Ottawa Senators in the second round and he ended up getting fired.
In 2010-11, the Boston Bruins finished first in the Northeast Division with 103 points and were third overall in the Conference behind the Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, who had won the Southeast and Atlantic Divisions, respectively. Their opponent for Round One was the Montreal Canadiens who had finished second in the division, with 96 points and sixth overall in the conference. Throughout NHL history, the Canadiens were one of the Bruins’ most bitter rivals. Prior to the 2010-11 season, they had met in the playoffs 32 times, with Montreal winning 23 times. From 1929-1987, Boston had won just two playoff series out of 22. Results became more even since then, in which from 1988-2010, the Bruins had won six series and the Canadiens had won four.
The series with Montreal started off badly for the Bruins, as they dropped the first two games at home by scores of 2-0 and 3-1. Captain Zdeno Chara missed the second game, due to flu-like symptoms. The tide changed for Boston when they traveled to Montreal for Games 3 and 4. Boston won Game 3 by a score of 1-0 and followed it up in Game 4 by winning an overtime thriller 5-4. In Game 5, they returned to Boston and won the game 2-1 in double overtime. They returned to Montreal for Game 6 and lost 2-1. But won Game 7 at home, once more in overtime. This seven-game series featured three overtime wins by Boston.
The Capitals first round series against Columbus during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs started off in a similar manner. Like Boston back in 2011, the Caps lost the first two games of the series and had pulled to two-goal leads only to lose the lead, go into overtime and lose, with scores of 4-3 and 5-4. The tide turned for the Capitals in Columbus as they decided to change goalies, with Braden Holtby regaining his starting job from Philipp Grubauer. Game 3 was another overtime affair; this time the game required double overtime, with the Caps winning by a score of 3-2. The Caps evened up the series in Game 4 by the more decisive score of 4-1. Game 5 returned to Washington and was yet another overtime victory for the Caps, this time by a 4-3 score. The Caps finished off the series in Columbus, winning Game 6 by a score of 6-3.
Links to NoVa Caps Game Summaries
Capitals Fall to Blue Jackets 4-3 (OT)
Capitals Fall to Blue Jackets 5-4 (OT); Trail In Series 2-0
Lars Eller Wins It for Capitals, 3-2 in Double OT; Caps Cut Series Deficit to 2-1
Capitals Drop Blue Jackets, 4-1, Level Series
Capitals Beat Blue Jackets 4-3 (OT); Take 3-2 Series Lead
Alex Ovechkin Scores Twice as Capitals Beat Blue Jackets 6-3; Advance to Face Pittsburgh Penguins in Second Round
There were many parallels in those two series. In both, the higher-seeded team lost the first two games at home but evened up the series on the road. With momentum on their side, they returned home and won Game 5. Both series featured multiple overtime contests, with the Boston-Montreal series featuring three, all won by Boston. The Washington-Columbus series, meanwhile, featured four overtime games, with Columbus winning the first two and Washington winning the last two.
While the rivalry between Columbus and Washington is not the storied rivalry that Boston and Montreal has been, they are starting to develop more of a rivalry, as they have been the third-best team in the Metropolitan Division, just behind Washington and Pittsburgh, in each of the last two years.
In 2011, the Boston Bruins faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. This was a matchup many Boston fans likely looked upon with trepidation, given how that same matchup had gone for the two teams the previous season. In 2010, the Bruins faced the Flyers in the second round. Boston won the first three games of that series by scores of 5-4 in overtime, 3-2, and 4-1, with the Flyers winning Game 4 in overtime to prolong the series. They won the next two games as well by scores of 4-0 and 2-1 to even that series. The Flyers won Game 7 by a score of 4-3 in a game in which Boston initially led by a 3-0 score. This represented one of the worst collapses in NHL playoff history and was the third time an NHL team had blown a 3-0 series lead to end up losing the series.
So, facing the Flyers was not an enticing prospect. While the Flyers and Bruins had been strong rivals during the 1970’s, their rivalry overall has been blunted by the fact they no longer play in the same division. Still, the memory of the previous year was fresh in the minds of Bruins fans. The task was also more difficult since the Flyers would start off with the home field advantage this time.
The second round results started off in a similar fashion as the previous year, with Boston winning in Philadelphia by scores of 7-3 and 3-2, in overtime. They won Game 3 at home by a score of 5-1, which put them in the exact same situation that was the setup for the previous year’s collapse. However, Boston won Game 4 by an identical score as Game 3, 5-1. The Bruins swept the Flyers and history did not repeat itself.
Meanwhile, the Caps played the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the 2018 playoffs. This was the third consecutive year in which the Caps faced the Penguins in the second round and the Penguins had won each time and went onto win the Stanley Cup in those playoff runs. Like Boston’s playoff history with Montreal prior to 1988, the Penguins had won a disproportionate number of the playoff series against the Caps.
But this year was different. After splitting Games 1 and 2 at home, with Pittsburgh winning the first, 3-2, and the Caps winning the second, 4-1. Likewise, they split the next two on the road, winning Game 3, 4-3, but losing Game 4, 3-1. The Caps returned home and won 6-3 in a game that was closer than the final score indicated. The Caps returned to Pittsburgh and finished off the series with an overtime win, winning 2-1. They won the series in six games (4-2).
Links to NoVa Caps Game Summaries
Penguins Beat Capitals 3-2, Take 1-0 Series Lead
Quick Start Helps Capitals Beat Penguins 4-1; Series Tied 1-1
Ovi Strikes Late to Deliver Caps a 4-3 Win and 2-1 Series Lead
Penguins Down the Capitals 3-1 In Game 4 To Tie the Series 2-2
Capitals Beat Penguins 6-3; Take 3-2 Series Lead
Capitals Beat Penguins 2-1 (OT); Advance to Conference Finals
There were parallels between the Caps’ series against Pittsburgh in 2018 and the Bruins’ series against Philadelphia in 2011 in that both teams successfully conquered a playoff demon that they failed against only one year earlier.
Round Three – Eastern Conference Finals
In 2011, the Boston Bruins met the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round Three, the Eastern Conference Finals. The series ended up going a full seven games. Boston lost the initial game at home, 5-2, but came back to win Game 2, 6-5. They went to Tampa and won Game 3 by a 2-0 score but dropped Game 4, 5-3. They won Game 5 at home by a score of 3-1, but lost Game 6, 5-4. The Bruins closed out the series by wining Game 7 by a 1-0 score. The Bruins subsequently advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
By coincidence, the Capitals met the same opponents in 2018 in Tampa Bay. Past playoff series against Tampa Bay had been a nightmare for the Caps. In 2003, they won the first two games of their first round series in the Lightning’s home arena, only to lose the next two games at home and the two games after that, to be swept in reverse. In 2011, they met the Lightning in the second round, and were abruptly swept in four games. With those two series, the Caps had never won a home playoff game against the Lightning. The Caps started off similarly to the 2003 team by beating Tampa Bay in the first two games on the road, but subsequently lost in Games 3 and 4 at home. Game 5, which was away, was played in similar fashion, in that it was another loss and put the Caps behind 3-2. However, Game 6’s result would be drastically different than it had been for the Caps in 2003, as the Caps won Game 6 against Tampa Bay at home, forcing a decisive Game 7. This time, the Caps won Game 7 against the Lightning in Tampa Bay and advanced to their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1998.
Links to NoVa Caps Game Summaries
Capitals Ground Lightning 4-2, Take 1-0 Series Lead
Capitals Blast Lightning 6-2, Take 2-0 Series Back to Washington
Lightning Strike Back, Beat Capitals 4-2; Caps Lead Series 2-1
Lightning Strike Again 4-2, Tie Series 2-2
Lightning Beat Capitals 3-2, Take 3-2 Series Lead
Capitals Beat Lightning 3-0; Force Game 7 Wednesday Night
Capitals Beat Lightning 4-0, Advance to Stanley Cup Finals
Both the 2017-18 Capitals and the 2010-11 Boston Bruins advanced by winning a seven-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, even though the Boston-Tampa Bay series did not conjure any past nightmares for Bruins fans besides normal nervousness unlike what it did for the Caps this season
Round Four – Stanley Cup Finals
In 2011, the Boston Bruins met the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. The Canucks had won the President’s Trophy that year with the best record in the league, but had never won a Cup in their history. The Bruins won the series in seven games, but they started the series by dropping the first two games to the Canucks in Vancouver. They responded by winning their next two games in Boston. After that, they split Games 5 and Game 6. Boston won Game 7 in Vancouver.
The 2018 Capitals are meeting the Vegas Golden Knights, a first-year expansion team who surprised virtually everyone by winning the Pacific Division and winning the Western Conference Finals to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
The ending remains to be written as to whether the Capitals will win the Stanley Cup this season or not. But so far in their journey, they have followed a similar path as the Bruins did on their way to the Cup.
By Diane Doyle