Photo: Nick Wass/AP
After taking a commanding 2-0 lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals are now facing elimination from the playoffs after a defeat in Tampa Bay on Saturday night. As a result, the team will look to build on past experiences to advance past Monday night’s Game 6.
“This group seems to never do anything really easy. They have responded all the time,” said coach Barry Trotz at the team hotel Sunday morning in Tampa.
“That’s the grace in it all is that they do respond, battle for each other, find another level so we’ll have to do that next game.”
“We’ve dealt with a lot this year,” defenseman John Carlson added.
“I think these guys are a very capable group that is very capable of winning the next game. That’s what we’re worried about.”
By now fans have seen how the Capitals have responded to adversity. When the team lost key players such as Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt last summer, not many people predicted them to win the Metropolitan Division or even make the playoffs for that matter.
Early season injuries to important players like Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, and T.J. Oshie put the Caps in a deeper hole. A lot of teams fold when a star player goes down but the Caps were an exception. They came together as a team, had a “next man up” mentality and reaped the benefits of camaraderie.
“Our team this year definitely wasn’t a Cinderella story, but I think for being a division winner we had to claw our way most of the season and things didn’t always go our way,” said Carlson.
“I think we can draw from that for what’s upcoming for us.”
If there’s one big thing this team has learned this season, it is that they had to step up and play the hands they’ve been dealt. How did this team get this far to the Eastern Conference Finals? They simply didn’t quit. They could’ve easily gone down after losing both of their first two home games in their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Instead they put it behind them and gutted out a Game 3 win that would turn into the first of four straight to get to the second round.
The Capitals lost Tom Wilson in their second round series against the Penguins due to a three-game suspension right after winning a thriller in Pittsburgh to put them up 2-1 in the series. They would drop the following game, heading back home with the series tied 2-2. The Capitals responded with a comeback win on home ice and defeated the Penguins in Game 6, despite not having Nicklas Backstrom due to an upper-body injury. They simply put the past and what they couldn’t control behind them and focused on the task at hand.
“It’s a life lesson for a lot of guys. You just sort of have to park whatever happened and you move forward. That’s sort of the way life is. I think this group has matured that way. I think this group has grown that way. I expect them to respond like they have all year. We just have to go back and win a game at home and then earn the right to keep playing,” said Trotz.
The Capitals may have fared better on the road this spring, but that isn’t a concern right now. They need to get the job done at home. When this team takes the ice at Capital One Arena in front of 18,506 fans, they need to channel their energy. From three horn sounds and “Let’s Go Caps” chants to unleashing the fury, the Capitals will be looking to their crowd to create a tough environment for the Lightning.
“There’s gonna be a ton of energy in that building and we’re gonna have to use it. They (the Lightning in Game 5 at home) did a good job coming out and scoring on the first shift and creating that atmosphere in their building and we’re gonna have to do the same because it can be hard to play a road game when you get stepped on early,” said Tom Wilson.
“We can maybe take a page out of their book and make sure we get on them early and make sure we play the full game. At this time of year, it’s always fun to play at home because it’s sold out, it’s electric, it’s awesome, it’s why you play. It’s the fun time of year for sure.”
As radio voice John Walton says, “It’s okay to believe.”
By Michael Marzzacco