Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images
There’s nothing like the atmosphere at an NHL game, especially in the playoffs. And when teams are playing on their home ice there’s a comfort factor knowing the crowd is cheering for them. Make no mistake, the Washington Capitals love playing in front of over 18,000 fans at Capital One Arena, but one of the biggest things that has led to their success this spring is the way they’ve played on the road.
You may recall Evgeny Kuznetsov saying back in January that he prefers playing on the road over playing at home. Why is that? Why enjoy playing in front of people who are booing, heckling and hating you?
Why are #Caps so good at home? Evgeny Kuznetsov: “I don’t know. I don’t like play at home. I love more play on the road.”
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) January 10, 2018
Maybe that is the reason right there. Knowing that a majority of the building is against you can bring a team closer. Instead of the distractions of home life and families, teammates are spending time together, getting dinner or being roommates with one another.
In the regular season, the Capitals were 21-15-5 away from Capital One Arena but closed out the season winning seven of their final eight road games. That success has carried over into postseason play.
After the Caps dropped their first two games of their first round series against the Blue Jackets on home ice, they had the difficult task of having to win at least one game on the road. Instead of winning one game, the Capitals won both to square the series. The Capitals would go on to win the series thanks to an overtime win at home in Game 5 and closing out the series in Columbus.
In Pittsburgh, the Capitals won two of three games in a hostile environment. Those two wins were thrillers. Game 3 saw Alex Ovechkin score the game-winning goal with 1:07 left. The other win came in Game 6 and was an overtime classic that saw Evgeny Kuznetsov win the game and the series.
The Capitals carried over that road success into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday night in a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Overall, the Capitals are 6-1 on the road and have outscored the opposition 24-15. If you include the streak at the end of the regular season, the Capitals have won 13 of their last 15 games on the road.
After the win, Jay Beagle was asked about what he attributes the road success to.
“I think just keeping it simple. Sometimes at home, you think you’ve gotta make an extra play and there’s a little more pressure,” said Beagle. “I think when you come into a building and you’re playing that simple, hard, north road game I think that’s what’s made us have the success that we’ve had and you have to obviously carry that over into Game 2.
Game 2 is on Sunday night and while the Caps do have that goal of carrying the success over, it won’t be easy. The Lightning are still the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference. In their second round series against the Boston Bruins, the Bolts dropped Game 1 6-2 before they responded by winning the next four games. They’ll be bringing their “A” game tomorrow and the Caps have to be ready.
“Last series, they had a great response their second game. We expect them to have a great response (again) and we better be ready for it,” said Barry Trotz at the team hotel on Saturday morning.
By Michael Marzzacco