Those who know Hunter the coach have said the same thing, referring to his quiet, almost timid personality. But on Thursday night Hunter flashed something different, using an impassioned second-intermission speech to fire up the Caps en route to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We were frustrated. We were a little down on ourselves for the way we sucked, I guess, you could say on the penalty kill and taking some penalties there,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He just came in and pretty much told us to man up and start playing, everybody, five guys on the ice at a time.”
The Capitals “manned up” after a second period in which they managed just three shots and nothing for 16:56. The message was clear.
“Yeah, he said just quit trying to use your skill and use your will a little bit more,” forward Brooks Laich said.
“You know, just we’ve got to go out and work hard,” he said with a smile and a laugh.
That’s certainly not all he said, and players filled in the details. This was about playing as a team and players not skating around like individuals.
“We just have to work hard, and we can’t always try to make the nice plays,” said center Marcus Johansson, who had the game-tying in the third. “I think everybody here got a little wake-up call, and we went out and did it as a team. And everybody works just as hard as the other guy.”
The third period was pure domination as Washington pressured the Lightning and rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski until he cracked in allowing Johansson’s goal with just under four minutes left.
It was a familiar refrain of strong play late.
“We come into the third period usually down and we kind of yell at each other a little bit and ask ourselves what we’re doing and just kind of throw everything we have at a time,” Alzner said. “Sometimes, I guess it takes them a little bit by surprise and guys just put the puck in the net.”
But this time the yelling came from the coach who enjoyed success at the junior level with an even keel. The volume was different this time, but the message got through.
“We showed character,” said captain Alex Ovechkin, who had the game-winner. “After second period we don’t play well and coach give us hard time. And we win.”