NEW YORK | Defenseman Steve Eminger sat and watched his Washington Capitals teammates for most of last season before being pressed into duty in the playoffs, when he played some of the best hockey of his Caps tenure.
For Washington blueliner Brian Pothier, this year has been eerily similar. He missed all but nine games of the regular season because of a concussion and subsequent complications, but he too is taking advantage of the opportunity to play in the postseason.
"It is a different game in the playoffs," Pothier said. "In the regular season, especially when the lineup is being juggled and you are in and out, there is a tendency to try to do too much. Especially when you come off a long injury or a situation where you're not playing, you want to earn that spot, and that can be detrimental. You start turning pucks over and do some knucklehead stuff. In the playoffs, there is no room for turnovers, so you just have to do the simple stuff. Usually you are more effective when you do that."
Pothier was a healthy scratch in Game 1, but an injury to Jeff Schultz opened a spot in the lineup, and Pothier played steady hockey in Games 2 and 3 in the Caps' Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers.
His ice time increased from 15:46 in Game 2 to more than 18 minutes in Game 3, and he put four shots on net and blocked two. He played 14:50 in Game 4.
The Rangers scored just one goal on 57 shots against rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov in Games 2 and 3. Part of that has been excellence from the 20-year-old in net, but part of it is also due to the guys in front of him.
"Not to take anything away from him, but I think in all three games our defense corps has been very supportive in dealing with rebounds and dealing with second chances," goaltending coach Dave Prior said.
Pothier and his partner, John Erskine, have been a key factor in the team's impressive defensive effort in the past two games. Erskine has also seen an increased workload, averaging nearly 19 minutes a game after playing only 16:08 in Game 1.
"We played together toward the beginning of the season last year," Erskine said. "He's a little more offensive-minded, and I hang back and am more of a defensive defenseman. We just talk and we work well together out there."
Schultz still waiting
Schultz didn't skate again Wednesday morning and appears no closer to returning from his undisclosed injury. He missed his third straight game after sitting out five of the team's seven playoffs games last season.
"It is very frustrating because you see all the fun the guys are having out there," Schultz said. "Everybody wants to play in the playoffs."
Schultz hasn't skated since the day after Washington's Game 1 loss.
"I tried and it didn't feel good, so I just need more time," he said.
Nylander, Clark out again
Center Michael Nylander was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. Captain Chris Clark, who was cleared to play before the series started, has been scratched from all four contests.