NEW YORK — After the Washington Capitals' 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 1, the scene inside the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden was one of unpleasant reflection.
"We all were sitting here and we knew it," forward Jay Beagle said. "We were like, 'That's not going to cut it. That's not good enough.' "
Especially coming after knocking off the defending Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins in seven games and showing that Dale Hunter's tight-checking style can work wonders.
No, this was a familiar feeling for all the wrong reasons.
"You saw more of a Washington Capitals from the regular season than the Capitals from the last couple games and playoffs," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We had a couple ... mistakes and mental errors, and they scored goals. The team's too good to have that. It's frustrating when that creeps back in."
Washington barely made the playoffs and was considered a heavy underdog against Boston. But by limiting chances on both sides, cutting down on mistakes and getting stellar goaltending, the Capitals were able to advance.
That didn't happen Saturday, as rookie goalie Braden Holtby struggled to make up for blunders, including those by veteran defenseman Mike Green and left wing Jason Chimera. It showed that life on the edge might be hard.
"It's not hard if you're playing the right way," right wing Troy Brouwer said. "We had a couple turnovers, a couple missed assignments, and those are the ones that ended up in the back of our goal."
It's unreasonable for the Caps to expect Holtby to be near-perfect every day. The margin of error already is thin in the playoffs, and the 22-year-old acknowledged he wasn't at his best in Game 1.
Afterward, Hunter lamented missed chances and shots that hit the post. That's the same kind of talk that followed so many regular-season disappointments, and players struggled to pinpoint why the intensity wasn't at a playoff level.
"It was a weird feeling. It was just a weird game. I mean everyone was kind of stuck in it," Beagle said. "It's not like we weren't trying. It's not like we didn't know what was on the table and what we needed to do. It was just weird. It was just we couldn't get out of this regular-season [funk]. Like Karl said, it was just kind of couldn't get going, couldn't ramp it up."
Ramping it up requires even another gear in the second round from the first, several players pointed out. Right wing Joel Ward called Saturday's loss a good learning experience.
"Just knowing that it's a different team, you've got to up the ante a little bit more and just bring the next level," Ward said. "I don't know whether we kind of, as a team collectively, we thought that it was going to be the same series [as Boston]. Against a different team, it's a bigger monster."
Preparing for Game 2, the mood was tense at practice Sunday, with forward Brooks Laich showing a bit of agitation. Players decried the intensity level not being good enough against the Rangers, and that's something he won't tolerate.
"It takes so much to win that every little thing matters that if there's things that I think we can be doing better, then I'm going to try and help to do that and try and find a way to get the most out of our guys," Laich said. "It's something we'll address in the room, and I don't really care to share too much more than that."
Sounds like a couple of the players-only meetings that occurred during the regular season. But at least then, the Caps could take solace in building off strengths. They'll try to do so in the playoffs, too, such as holding the Rangers to 14 shots.
"In the course of a game or playoff series, you're going to play some stretches of good hockey, and sometimes you're going to make mistakes," Laich said. "I think that's the worst thing you can do is dwell on the negatives. Focus on the positives and come back with a better effort [Monday] and leave here smiling."
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