Some 58 percent of OFB readers believe that a Postseason Curse plagues the Washington Capitals. A bit fatalistic, isn’t it? And yet, the eras change, the uniforms get redesigned, a wise blueprint for competitive durability is adopted, a franchise-altering Dynamo-hero arrives to make all the past agony better, and to quote Zeppelin, The Song [in spring] Remains the Same.
Obviously, there’s a Curse.
For some, the term “Curse” may be too mystical and myth-premised, too draconian and fatalistic to buy into. I use different terminology, and associate the Capitals’ springtime fortunes with a skating swagger of doom. But you can think of it as a curse all right — it has the same effect.
Twelve years ago, the Baltimore Orioles, then a flagship franchise in Major League Baseball, did what Americans citizens can’t and traveled to Cuba to play the Cuban national baseball team. That trip was referenced on Baltimore sportstalk radio this week, amid the O’s’ 7-21 start to the new season. Ever since that trip, the radio hosts alleged, the one-time class of the American League East has been in a tailspin. A serious tailspin. As in: the O’s have played 1,973 games since making that trip to Cuba in ’98, and they’ve won just 863 of them, according to my crack intern Andrew. They’ve finished either 4th or 5th in the five-team AL East every season save one since ’98, in 2004, when they finished 3rd. Beginning with that 1998 season the O’s have never finished a season above the .500 mark.
Sounds like a curse to me. And a plague (Angelos).
The Capitals of course have never traveled to Cuba as a team (although Canadians are permitted to visit the island, and it is a popular vacation destination for a fair number of Canucks). However, their power play against Montreal last month looked as if had been designed by Fidel Castro.
A select few sports organizations boast what might be termed a swagger of success. The New York Yankees. The Boston Celtics. The New England Patriots. They’ve risen above the level of cursable. In individual sports, Roger Federer, Michael Phelps, and the 2.0 Tiger Woods have similar swagger. The Washington Capitals do not. They never have. In the postseason they perpetually possess a swagger of doom.
In 1988, when the Dale Hunter-led Caps overcame a 3-1 series deficit, and a 3-0 game 7 deficit, to topple the Flyers and win a Patrick division semifinal, I allowed myself the delusion of believing that the Curse had been quashed. In their next series the Capitals, again enjoying home-ice advantage over the 4th-place club in the Patrick, New Jersey, lost in seven games. The Capitals in 1987-88 boasted the league’s best defense. In game 3 against the Devils that spring the Caps surrendered 10 goals.
Of course there’s a Curse.
1998 was an outlier of springtime success for this organization. The Caps benefited from some remarkable opening-round upsets that spring. No. 1 seed New Jersey fell to no. 8 Ottawa. No. 2 seed Pittsburgh was slain by no. 7 Montreal. No. 3 Philadelphia was bested by no. 6 Buffalo. Only the 4th-seeded Caps advanced as favorite in the East in the opening round. The Caps got stupendous netminding all postseason long from Olie Kolzig, but ultimately Esa Tikkanen came up empty early on in the Cup Finals versus the Wings, reminding us in D.C. that the Curse lived.
The Capitals have now competed in nine game 7s, winning just two of them. And eight of those game 7s have been at home. They’re a godless 2-6 in game 7s at home. Four times the Caps have led a series three games to one and gone on to lose the series. Four times they’ve led a series three games to two, and in the four instances in which they lost game 6, they also lost game 7.
No no. 1 seed in NHL history had ever squandered a three-games-to-one lead in a series against no. 8 and gone on to lose the series. Until your Capitals pulled it off this spring. That’s not the breaks beatin’ the boys.
Of course there’s a Curse.
No club has perpetuated a Curse upon the Capitals’ postseason fortunes as Pittsburgh has. Why belabor that; if you’ve followed this team for any length of time you know that sordid story. Last May, after Ovi’s Caps endured a Sidney Crosby hat trick in game 2 and still triumphed, taking a 2-0 series lead, I allowed myself the delusion of believing that the Curse had been quashed. After the Montreal dagger in our hockey heart, I’ve a full-on belief in our foul fate.
Crests in hockey, I believe, do carry karma — an aura that’s generally positive or its counterpart. It means something I believe for a kid to be drafted by the Wings or the Habs and to wear their crest versus say that of the Bluejackets. Or the Caps. In their most recent redesign of their crest perhaps the Caps selected a look that too closely resembled that of the accursed original.
Thinking optimistically, perhaps there’s a shelf life on curses. The San Jose Sharks appears to be unshackled from theirs this spring. Perhaps the Caps are next. Still, right now, the ‘C’ in the Capitals’ crest stands for cursed. Until the skaters wearing it prove otherwise.