WASHINGTON - Twenty years ago this month, the Washington Capitals were on the brink of elimination in a first-round series to the Philadelphia Flyers after losing Game 4 in overtime on the road.
The Capitals rallied to win the next three, capped by Dale Hunter's overtime goal in Game 7. It is one of only 20 times in NHL history that a team has overcome a 3-1 series deficit.
"Twenty?" defenceman Steve Eminger asked. "Why not 21?"
The Capitals went through an optional skate early Friday afternoon, trying to shake off the anger and soreness from Thursday night's double overtime 4-3 loss at Philadelphia. Coach Bruce Boudreau addressed the team, delivering the familiar "don't-give-up" message due from any leader who knows the next loss means the end of the season.
"I've got a favourite saying: 'The things that are the most rewarding are the things that people say you can't do,"' said Boudreau, who has a three-game losing streak for the first time as an NHL head coach.
His words might seem trite to some, but probably not for this group. The Capitals, after all, were the worst team in the NHL when Boudreau was hired in November and played Game 7 hockey for the final two weeks of the regular season, winning seven straight merely to get into the post-season.
And now, a chance to become the 21st team to come back from 3-1? Bring it on.
"We've been in this position before," forward Brooks Laich said. "People have counted us out. They wrote us off, saying, 'Oh, it's been a good push, it's been a good story.' Now I think some people are waiting for us to die, and we don't feel like that in here. We still think we have a lot to give. We think this is going to be a long series."
The Capitals have a decent shot, if only because Game 4 was their best game so far in the series. Before that, the Flyers had arguably been the better team in eight of nine periods over the three games, with the come-from-behind third period in Game 1 the sole exception.
Game 4 was the first in which the Capitals didn't have a two-goal deficit, and the first in which they matched Philadelphia's aggression.
"We were a little more prepared," Laich said. "We knew what to expect, we knew what we were going to have to do to win. It's a young team. Guys are feeling their way, learning their way."
That's why the Flyers will want to close out the series in Washington on Saturday - before the Capitals' playoff neophytes really get their footing.
"We want to win the next one. We definitely don't want to give them life," Philadelphia centre R.J. Umberger said. "If we let them back in, next thing you know they have momentum and it's tied up."
The Capitals, however, will be hard-pressed to draw even if they don't make progress on two fronts: They need to stop Danny Briere, and they need to get Alex Ovechkin some decent scoring chances.
Briere has five goals in the series, including the tying goal in the third period of Game 4. Ovechkin has only one, the winner in Game 1.
Ovechkin accumulated a league-high 65 goals during the regular season by taking 446 shots on goal (5.44 per game), the second highest tally in NHL history. He had only one shot on goal Thursday and has just 13 in the series (3.25 per game). He's had 14 shots blocked in the four games, while 14 others have missed the net.
"Any game he doesn't score, he's due," Boudreau said. "His bar is set so high, people are expecting miracles from him. The longer the series goes, the more chances he's going to have. You know he's going to break out."
Boudreau also had plenty to say about the officiating in Game 4. Not counting a Flyers delay of game infraction late in the second period, the coach pointed out that "the most penalized team in the league didn't get a penalty for 73 straight minutes."
"They're all going for the Lady Byng now," he said jokingly, referring to the NHL trophy awarded for sportsmanship .
AP Sports Writer Rob Maaddi in Voorhees, N.J., contributed to this report.