In 2009, the Washington Capitals had a 2-0 series lead over none other than their archrival, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Backstopped by a rookie netminder named Semyon Varlamov, the Capitals flew into Pittsburgh on a high note only to lose the next three games.
The Pens would win the series in seven games, marking the second straight time the Capitals had blown a 2-0 advantage in the postseason. The previous time came in 2003 against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the Jaromir Jagr era.
Fast forward to 2011 and the Capitals have another seemingly commanding 2-0 edge; this time over the punchless New York Rangers, but they head into Madison Square Garden acknowledging they must keep their foot on the accelerator.
“A 2-0 lead is huge, we can enjoy it for ten minutes, and [then] keep moving on,” said Jason Chimera. “We can’t let this go to waste. We’ve gotta play hard in New York. The building is going to be buzzing and it’s a going to be a fun atmosphere there too. It’s gonna be a hell of a game. They’re going to work hard and we just gotta come out and match it.”
While the Capitals outplayed New York in the bulk of the first two games, many of the players voiced their displeasure over the lack of sharp play in parts of Game Two.
“We can’t stray from [what’s been working],” said Jason Arnott. “We gotta keep doing what we’re doing and like I said, there were still negatives in the game that we’re going to have to correct tomorrow.”
Arnott was referring to the third period when the Rangers dominated puck possession in the offensive zone and took advantage of some sloppy play by Washington in their own end. Even though the Capitals held the Rangers to six shots in the third period, Marco Sturm felt the team could tighten up defensively.
“We stayed strong, we played smart, but still we’ve got to play better,” said Marco Sturm.
The Capitals may be able to get away with a few turnovers against the offensively-challenged Rangers, but as the postseason progresses, the margin for error becomes slimmer.
Bruce Boudreau echoed his players’ sentiments.
“We recognized [the shortcomings] on the bench, we just didn’t do anything about it,” he said. “But I mean that’s how they’re going to come out in their building (with intensity). So we better not sit back like that. If we do, we’re gonna be in trouble.”
Friday night, the locker room wasn’t content to rest on the laurels of a quick start in round one. Every player seemed acutely aware that each win is but a step in the direction of a Stanley Cup. In short, they are no longer impressed with past accolades because before all is said and done, there are 14 more wins in front of them.
“They just want to win,” said Boudreau. “They’ve all said it to a man. I think the important thing is they get success. We’ve got a lot of guys that have won a lot of awards and that doesn’t mean anything to them now.”
All that matters to this team is Game Three in New York. Sturm said the Caps want to go “game-by-game” and with the Rangers on the ropes, Washington would be wise to take that approach before looking ahead to the next round.