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Penguins

Comeback Capitals walking trail blazed by '91 Penguins

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, May 31, 2018, 5:42 p.m.
U.S. President George Bush turns and shakes the hands of Pittsburgh Penguins Captain Mario Lemieux, left, after being presented a miniature Stanley Cup by the team owner during a Rose Garden ceremony honoring the NHL champions, June 24, 1991 in Washington. Lemieux then presented Bush with the Penguins jersey he is holding. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh stands beside Lemieux. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
U.S. President George Bush turns and shakes the hands of Pittsburgh Penguins Captain Mario Lemieux, left, after being presented a miniature Stanley Cup by the team owner during a Rose Garden ceremony honoring the NHL champions, June 24, 1991 in Washington. Lemieux then presented Bush with the Penguins jersey he is holding. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh stands beside Lemieux. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

If the Washington Capitals end up beating the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup, they'll join the 1991 Penguins in an exclusive club.

They'd be the only two teams in NHL history to win a championship after trailing in all four series they played.

For the 1991 Penguins, losing series openers was practically their trademark. They fell behind 1-0 in all four series.

“We're following this pattern and I can't explain it,” coach Bob Johnson said after a 5-4 loss to Minnesota in Game 1 of the final series. “We lost the first game to Jersey. We lost the first game to Washington. We lost the first game to Boston.”

The 1991 Penguins fell behind 2-0 once, in the conference finals against Boston, but fueled by a Kevin Stevens guarantee, they reeled off four straight wins. They also trailed 3-2 to New Jersey before Frank Pietrangelo's save propelled them to a seven-game victory in the first round. They were behind 2-1 in the finals against the North Stars.

“This team seems to play better when we have problems,” defenseman Paul Stanton said after the first Minnesota loss.

This year's Capitals, meanwhile, lost the first two games of the first round to Columbus, dropped the opener to the Penguins in the second round and fell behind 3-2 to Tampa Bay in the conference finals.

Washington coach Barry Trotz said years of playoff adversity prepared his team to be resilient now.

“This group has had everything thrown at them and they just say, ‘You know what? We're just going to push on. We're getting close. We have a vision of what we want to do,'” Trotz said after the Capitals forged a 1-1 tie with Vegas with a 3-2 win Wednesday night. “They really just wan to continue to keep playing. That's the great thing. It's getting hard. They've been physical games. We're actually loving it. Our group is thriving on it.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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