John Tortorella made it clear what he thought the impact was of the New York Rangers’ triple-overtime victory in Game 3 Wednesday night
“The impact is we’re up a game,” the coach deadpanned. “They have to win three, we have to win two.”
The impact felt much worse to Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich, but only in the seconds after he awakened Thursday morning.
“I woke up and for some reason I thought the season was over,” Laich said Friday. “I had a deep sleep, I had a long deep sleep and I thought the season was over. And then it refreshed in my mind that we only lost one hockey game, that it’s 2-1. We’re still in a good position.”
The season’s not over, but a loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center would go a long way to making that more than just a hallucination. It’s not quite a must-win game, as evidenced by the Caps’ ability to come back from down 3-1 against the Rangers in 2009, but that shouldn’t take away from the importance.
“It’d be nice. It would be nice to make it go at least six,” alternate captain Mike Knuble said. “I don’t think there’s any way around that. It’s a big game. It’s a lot different being 2-2 vs. down 3-1.”
And though the Caps are facing the same series deficit going into Game 4 as they did against the Boston Bruins in the first round, Knuble called that history “irrelevant.” The Caps weren’t coming off a three-overtime loss in that series, and, as Joel Ward put it recently, New York is a “bigger monster.”
Physically, having two days off should help the Caps immensely. But associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig figures it’ll help mentally, too.
“The good thing is they got two days between games so that the emotional benefit you get out of it both ways won’t be as significant as if we were playing [Friday] night,” Kolzig said. “Their high will come down a little bit, our low will come up a little bit, and both teams will be re-energized and rested. It’s fortunate that we have got the two days in between.”
After participating in the third-longest game in franchise history, several players were willing to accept that this was just a great game, win or lose. Obviously the Caps would have preferred to be on the winning end, but Laich and others tried to spin the loss forward as motivation.
“I definitely didn’t want it to end when it did,” Laich said with a smile. “I was actually really enjoying the longer it went. I was trying to end it; every time I stepped on the ice I was trying to get a shot and get a look at the net and try and end this thing. But I wasn’t trying to take risks or anything like that. We didn’t win, but it was still very enjoyable to be a part of.”
These playoffs have been enjoyable for the Caps because every game is close. Of their 10 games, nine have been decided by one goal.
But with that small margin for error, Washington could be facing elimination as early as Monday if it doesn’t manage to win Game 4. That’s motivation enough to move past three overtimes.
“Everybody wants to win,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Tomorrow it’s that kind of game we have to win and go to New York and play out there with a fresh mind and know it’s not gonna be ending.”