Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Five teams that hit rock bottom before winning a Cup (and what they can teach the Capitals)

A week can be a very long time in the NHL.

One week ago today, the Capitals were getting ready for the biggest game in recent franchise history. And it sure looked like they were about to record the biggest win in recent franchise history, as they went into Game 7 against the Penguins with all the momentum. With a win, they'd complete the comeback from down 3-1 in the series and advance to the conference final for the first time in the Alexander Ovechkin era.

We know how that turned out. Now, the Capitals look like a franchise in ruin. They've got several paths forwards, and none of them look good. For a team that everyone seemed to have penciled in as favorites, it's hard to imagine the mood around the team being much worse.

So what happens when a Cup contender has it all go bad?

If there's any good news to be found for the Capitals, it's that there's actually a decent history of NHL teams having miserable postseason exits, only to bounce back and win the Stanley Cup a year or two later. So today, let's try to cheer up Washington fans with a look back at five Cup contenders who hit rock bottom or something close to it before winning it all, and what those teams could teach the Capitals.

2010 Boston Bruins

What went wrong: Like the current Capitals, the 2009-10 Bruins hadn't been out of the second round in a long time. It had been 18 years since their last trip to the final four, including a disappointing 2008-09 season in which they came within a point of first overall, then were stunned by the sixth-seeded Hurricanes in Round 2.

But in 2010, things were different. The Bruins beat out the Sabres in the opening round, then took a 3-0 series lead over the Flyers in the second round. But after missing a shot at a sweep by dropping Game 4 in overtime, the Bruins lost Games 5 and 6 as well, forcing a seventh game on home ice. Then they blew a 3-0 lead in that game, completing one of the most stunning collapses in NHL history, becoming (at the time) only the third team to ever lose a series it had led 3-0.

But then: The Bruins traded for Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell in the offseason, and drafted Tyler Seguin with Toronto's pick. But other than that, they kept the roster largely intact (getting Tim Thomas back to gull health helped). It paid off when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Nobody mentions the blown 3-0 lead anymore.

What the Caps can learn: If you're looking for a case of a team resisting the urge to overreact and being rewarded, the Bruins are a decent choice. Nobody got fired, and none of the top stars were shown the door. And for once, the "stay the course" approach worked.

1979 Islanders

What went wrong: The 1978-79 seasons marked the fourth straight year in which the Islanders finished with one the five best records in the league. This time, they were the best, period, winning the Presidents' Trophy with a franchise record 116 points. But in all that time, they'd never been able to get over the hump and into the final.

The 1979 playoffs were supposed to be different. The Islanders swept the Hawks in Round 1, setting up a meeting with a Rangers team that had finished 25 points back of them in the standings. But the Rangers largely shut down the Islanders' high-octane offense, winning the series in six and leaving fans on Long Island to wonder if their team would ever figure it out in the playoffs.

But then: It's safe to say they figured it out; after that Rangers loss, the Islanders won their next 19 playoff series, a pro sports record that still stands today. That included four straight Stanley Cups and full-fledged dynasty status.

That was despite taking a step back during the 1980-81 regular season, falling to a pedestrian 91 points. But a late-season move to bring in Butch Goring seemed to spark the team, and is often cited as one of the best trade deadline deals ever.

What the Caps can learn: The lesson here is to stay calm if the team seems to regress next season, although it's hard to imagine that message actually sinking in for a Washington fan base on edge. Still, the Islanders are another decent "stay the course" story, with a little bit of "load up at the deadline" mixed in.

Of course, there's also one other Islanders move that's been largely forgotten: They switched captains in 1979, moving the "C" from Clark Gillies to Denis Potvin. Sorry, Alex.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

No comments:

Post a Comment