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Capitals show they can take Rangers’ punch
It appeared as if the Washington Capitals were finished when they blew a chance to put the Boston Bruins away in six games. Their season seemed over when they lost to the New York Rangers in triple overtime in Game 3. And then again when they lost the lead with 7.6 seconds left in regulation in Game 5 and proceeded to fall in overtime.
It wasn’t over. For a team that lacked the ability to put everything together for most of the regular season, the Caps have shown the resiliency of a champion. They get knocked down and seem to be better for it.
“We have that thick skin, and we know when to battle back when we need to and have to,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We go out there, and we all know we’re in it for the exact same goal. It doesn’t matter what happens in the dressing room, away from the rink as long as we’re all doing the same thing. That’s really nice that you can rely on everybody from that.”
Now 4-0 following overtime losses, the Caps’ biggest challenge might be avoiding a letdown from an emotional Game 6 victory at Verizon Center in time for Game 7 Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Staving off elimination showed determination, but now there’s a need to stay even-keeled with momentum on their side.
“We have to keep the same level of desperation,” forward Brooks Laich said. “The series has gone: One team has pushed, and the other team’s pushed back, and really, the efforts have been a response to the previous game. But we’re faced with the same situation we were [Wednesday] night, so we need to be equally desperate.”
That’s not easy. Game 6 easily was the Rangers‘ worst performance of the series and possibly the postseason. Other than goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, it was hard to single out a player who had a strong game.
Meanwhile, the Capitals were clicking. Left wing Alex Ovechkin scored on a power play just 1:28 in, and Washington played its ideal style with the lead. With Braden Holtby turning in another stellar outing and the likes of forwards Jason Chimera and Joel Ward stepping up, it’s not hard to figure how the Caps evened the series.
“We needed it because it was an elimination game,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We needed to jump on loose pucks, create some momentum for the other guys on the team and we did.”
In any situation that kind of effort would have been impressive, but especially given that the Capitals were just 7.6 seconds from winning Game 5 and saw it all come crashing down.
Players thank coach Dale Hunter for keeping them on the same emotional level, but he doesn’t want the credit.
“The players, there’s a lot of character in that room. You lose, you lose. It’s done,” he said. “You have to move on. You’ve got to worry about the next game, and that’s the kind of attitude they have in that room.”
Another way the Caps feed off Hunter is from his penchant for pressure situations. He loved them as a player and embraces them as a coach.
As his team has shown, adversity and pressure are a good mix.
“I think that of course everyone would want it to be smooth sailing all the time. It’s just not the way it works around here and not the way it works in the playoffs,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Before [Game 6] we said, ‘Let’s go out there and give it our best and have some fun,’ and that’s what it’s all about. We play 82 games in the regular season for this. We enjoy it right now, but we’ve got to put our heads back on and get ready for Saturday.”
That’s how Carlson was talking after Game 5, too, that he and his teammates just needed to shake the cobwebs out of their heads from the overtime loss.
Perhaps from history, too. This core group has played in five Game 7s dating to 2008 and is 2-3. Laich prefers to forget about the 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 but emphasized that the other deciding games were tight.
Another game like that would seem perfect for these Caps.
“Just enjoy it. You can’t get froze up by the pressure or the intensity,” Laich said. “You just have to let yourself be free and enjoy it and then after that whatever you are: If you’re a skater, you have to skate, if you’re a shooter, you shoot. You just let your natural abilities take over and compete your tail off.”
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