The Maple Leafs lost the first three games of that series to Detroit, but came back to win the Cup.
So far, only those Maple Leafs have been able to pull off such a feat in the Finals.
If the Caps are to win this series, they will have to be the second team in NHL history to do it, because last night, Washington lost its Game 3 comeback bid, 2-1, on a goal by Sergei Fedorov with 4: 51 to play.
It is the first time since 1976 that the first three games of the Finals have been decided by one goal.
"Detroit is working hard and making their own breaks," Capitals coach Ron Wilson said. "They're consistent and seem to be on a mission. We basically didn't show up in the first period, but after that, we just kept plugging, till we tied it up and then a great player made a great play and we lost the game by a goal. I mean, there is nothing more that can be said."
There are two parts to the Red Wings' mission. One is to get Detroit coach Scotty Bowman a record-tying eighth Stanley Cup championship. The other is to honor their fallen teammate, defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov, who suffered debilitating head injuries in a limousine accident a year ago last night.
"I was just thinking about Vladi," said Fedorov, who scored for the first time in the series. "This time last year, I was coming home from the golf course and heard and went to the hospital crying my eyes out. Tonight, I get a puck after the game, will see if he would like to have it. This definitely is in his memory. It is a special night."
It was anything but special to the Capitals, who are now in danger of becoming the fourth straight team to be swept in the Stanley Cup Finals -- a trend started by New Jersey in 1995 when it swept the Red Wings.
The Caps had rallied to tie at 1 with 9: 25 to play when Brian Bellows made his biggest play of the season. The left wing, who joined the Capitals at the trading deadline, skated in on Detroit goalie Chris Osgood's right flank and slapped the puck behind him.
The play was made possible by Adam Oates, who took the puck from the corner to the net and caused a flurry that dislodged Osgood. When the puck slithered out, Bellows was on deck to knock it in.
"To be honest, this is the most difficult team to play for a goalie in the entire playoffs," Osgood said. "It's not the number of shots they take -- they don't take many. But the quality of their chances, you've got to be aware of every one of their guys from everywhere. I've been very fortunate."
The goal was the culmination of 35 minutes of hard work by the Capitals, who had spent the second period trying to make up for a Red Wings goal in the first 35 seconds of the game.
"We could just as easily be up 3-0 in this series," said Kolzig, who made 32 saves last night after making 55 in the Game 2 overtime loss. "I think everybody in this dressing room knows that. I'm not going out on a limb and saying we outplayed the Red Wings by any means, because it's not true. But a bounce here, a no-call there and we could be up 3-0."
In Kolzig's mind, the teams should still be playing Game 3 because the first goal shouldn't have counted. He felt he had made the play on Steve Yzerman, one-on-one, and gathered the puck beneath him. The puck was out of sight momentarily, but by the time Tomas Holmstrom arrived at the scene, the puck was in clear view and Holmstrom lifted it over Kolzig's stick.
"I don't really consider it a goal, period," Kolzig said. "I think the whistle should have blown. I think [referee Terry Gregson] was warming up his whistle and it hadn't gotten warm yet.
"That wasn't the deciding factor by any means, but it did take a lot of wind out of us early. It took the crowd out and it put us back on our heels."
It was only Thursday that the Capitals had become the first team in 42 years to lose a Finals game after leading by two goals in the third period.
Last night, outshot 13-1 in the first period, they tied for fewest shots in a period.
"We haven't put 60 minutes together yet," said left wing Craig Berube. "And we're playing against the best 60-minute team in the league."
Despite Washington's lack of experience in Stanley Cup Finals, Wilson said it is no reason for his team to be playing this poorly.
"I don't see why you have to be in the Finals to know how to play hard," he said. "I mean, you work so hard to get here and we have had some guys just not playing very well at all at this point. And part of it is how we are playing and a lot of credit has to go to Detroit for not allowing some of our key people to accomplish things."
Detroit .. 1 0 1 -- 2
Washington 0 0 1 -- 1
Washington vs. Detroit
(Detroit leads 3-0)
Date Res./Site Time TV
Gm 1 Det., 2-1
Gm 2 Det., 5-4**
Yest. Det., 2-1
Tue. at Wash. 8 ESPN
Thu. at Det. 8* Fox
Sat. at Wash. 8* ESPN
6/23 at Det. 8* Fox
*-If necessary; **-overtime
Pub Date: 6/14/98