But they went out and won one game and then another and another.
"We had so much confidence in the first four games of that series," recalled Washington goalie Don Beaupre. "And then Pittsburgh came out and started to wear it away, game by game. This series has been different. You don't want to say you're giving it, your confidence, away. But that's how it feels."
In this first-round series, it is the Capitals who are down 3-1, to the New York Islanders. If the Capitals lose Game 5 tonight, they can start searching for a vacation spot where they won't have to listen to their disgruntled fans screaming about how they can't win in postseason.
The Capitals still say they are behind in this series not because of what New York has done, but because of what they have failed to do.
The Capitals twice have blown 3-1 leads in the playoffs -- against Pittsburgh last season and against the Islanders in 1986-87. But the Capitals also rallied from a 3-1 disadvantage in 1987-88 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"There are six or seven guys on this team who still remember that Philadelphia series," said center Mike Ridley. "It's tough, but that's why it's a seven-game series. We haven't lost four yet."
To come back, the Capitals have to believe in themselves, and after Saturday's double-overtime, 4-3 loss, several of them were starting to wonder if they do.
"We say we do," said defenseman Calle Johansson. "Between periods, we tell each other we can win, that we're the better team, that we can get the job done. But then, when we get out on the ice, and when we really need to prove it, we don't play like we believe it.
"When the Islanders started to rally, instead of coming out and going harder, we got back on our heels. We stopped playing the way we played when we had control."
Washington, which won Game 1 in regulation, has lost three straight in overtime, two in double overtime.
"When you lose like that, of course your confidence level is going to be rattled," said coach Terry Murray. "But, as a professional athlete, you have to have the attitude that we can come out and win this one game. Not three games, but this one."
Johansson said the Capitals have to maintain a positive attitude and get mad at each other.
"I don't think there is any room for yapping at guys," Johansson said. "But the Islanders are outplaying us. They are scoring the goals,the typical playoff goals. They just throw it in front of the net and bang it in. . . . We just have to look ahead and play for our lives [tonight]."
Murray said he is considering several lineup changes, including a change in goaltender.
Rick Tabaracci has started all four playoff games, with a 2.75 goals-against average. Despite Tabaracci's fine play, Murray might feel a change could have a positive effect and give the Islanders something new to worry about.
"Rick has given us time to score the winning goal," Beaupre said. "And we're just not able to get it."
NOTES: Washington evidently scored a fourth goal Saturday night on a shot by Todd Krygier, but officials disallowed the score, saying Islanders goalie Glenn Healy was interfered with by Kelly Miller. Replays show it was Islander Tom Kurvers' stick that tripped Healy, not Miller. The goal would have given Washington a 4-1 lead with 10:15 gone in the second period.
"Maybe it sounds like sour grapes," said Washington general manager David Poile, "but we've tried to put officials in the position where they don't decide the outcome of a game. It's in the rule book. The ref could have called it a goal and then reviewed the play to see if someone was illegally in the crease."