Alex Ovechkin stopped just short of screaming “Rock the red” when talking about the Capitals’ potential Southeast Division-clinching game against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center on Tuesday night. Everyone expects a charged atmosphere around 7 p.m.
“We going to use it the maximum that we can,” the captain said. “It’s always nice to play at home in that kind of position, situation as well. I hope the fans going to be the best tonight.”
Even a late-arriving crowd should provide plenty of energy for the Caps and Jets, teams with varying degrees of desperation late in the season.
“You have to be able to channel that energy in a good way where you obviously feel good and maybe get your engine going but you’ve got to stay structured,” coach Adam Oates said. “You can’t do something that you’re not supposed to do because you’re over-hyped. You’ve still got to be a structured hockey team and just wait for your chance to execute and do your job.”
That’s Jets coach Claude Noel’s biggest concern. He isn’t concerned about the second half of back-to-back games or the fatigue that comes from it.
“I think it’d be hard for players not to find energy,” Noel said. “The only energy you lose if you get nervous and that drains you and that’s a little bit difficult.”
In line with Oates’ comments, Noel said some of his players have never been in this big of a game before. That presents a challenge as players think of it like a Game 7.
“You’ve got to make sure you control your emotions, both teams will go through that,” Noel said. “That’s the experience you get when you win and when you’ve been to the playoffs you get to know how to control those things.”
Winnipeg has its fair share of players with NHL playoff experience, including captain Andrew Ladd and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
Taking part in that run and playing more postseason games helped Caps right wing Troy Brouwer figure out how to balance the energy of a big game like this.
“You got to be able to find that line where you’re not overworking, you’re not jumping to too many puck, you’re not wearing yourself out before the game even starts,” Brouwer said. “So you got to be able to calm yourself down. … You can’t get into it where you’re starting to run around trying to finish checks that shouldn’t be there, trying to make plays that shouldn’t be there.”
Defenseman John Erskine said he and his teammates are approaching it like any other game, but it’s hardly that. The Caps would clinch the Southeast with a regulation or overtime victory, while the Jets would take over first place with a regulation win of their own.
“Both teams will be ramped up and there will be a lot of emotion in the game,” Noel said.
Winnipeg is 6-0-1 in its past seven and Washington is 9-1 in its past 10. So aside from Nik Antropov replacing the injured Kyle Wellwood for the Jets, don’t expect much to change.
“We’re in the position we are because we’ve had good success with our systems, a good mentality all along,” Brouwer said. “And tonight we got to continue to do that.”