- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz is a big believer in amnesia.

“I think we’ve been able to have a real short-term focus on the next game, looking forward,” Trotz said the day after his Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, in Game 5 at Verizon Center to survive and extend the Eastern Conference semifinals to Game 6 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

You can certainly understand the mindset of trying to forget decades of playoff pain for this franchise, but sometimes, it’s important to at least recall who you are.

After a pair of 3-2 losses to the Penguins in Pittsburgh last week, the language coming out of the Capitals‘ locker room was that of a team that seemed to forget that it was the best in the NHL. It won a franchise-record 56 games and was the fastest to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the league since the Detroit Red Wings in 2002.

They were good. They were very good. And, after the losses in Pittsburgh, everyone — Capitals players included — seemed to have forgotten that.

Players talked about a lack of urgency, focus and desperation, and the tone of the series had shifted to the Penguins being the better team, that maybe the Capitals didn’t have what it took to beat Pittsburgh.

Even Trotz, the preacher of positive thinking, appeared to have his doubts during Game 5 on Saturday night when, after Pittsburgh tied the score at 1-1, he said in a television interview during the game, “They’re a little quicker than us. We have to face facts.”

Then T.J. Oshie gave Washington a 2-1 lead and Braden Holtby turned in a series of stops and then everyone was reminded that these were the Capitals, the best team this season.

Everyone is fond of saying that the regular season means nothing in hockey, but it should at least give you a sense of what you are capable of when you’re at your best.

The Capitals finally got that sense in the second and third periods on Saturday night.

“After we scored that second goal, it seemed like momentum really shifted to our side,” Oshie said. “We found a way to close out the game and we’re going to find a way to do that a couple of more times this series.”

Despite the concerns he expressed during the game — and the language coming out of the locker room following the losses in Pittsburgh — Trotz felt his team had not lost confidence.

“It wasn’t confidence,” Trotz said. “It was disappointment. We thought we played two pretty good games on the road, and felt like we should have gotten at least one of them. So, I think it was more disappointment. Last night would have been a good example. If they didn’t have confidence, they would not have played as well as they did.”

But again, the message from the players was one of answering self doubts. They needed to believe again.

“It certainly gives us confidence,” Justin Williams said of the two goals Washington scored to take the lead, one of them his. “You want to get some momentum. Scoring two goals there is big for us.”

Trotz has been trying to wipe away thoughts of the past since he got here two years ago.

“I found that was front and center with anything that involved the Washington Capitals and the playoffs,” he said. “One of the reasons we were successful in the regular season is that no matter what happened in the game previously it really didn’t matter what was going to happen in the next game. It has no effect on it. That is why we were able to keep a game-to-game focus.

“I think in the past, when you would win a few games in a row, you would get real comfortable, and then all of a sudden you would lose three or four games in a row, and then all of the good work you did would go down the drain for a few weeks because they get comfortable,” Trotz said.

“During the year, you would ask guys how many games you won in a row, and they wouldn’t have a clue. They just didn’t look back.”

Maybe it would be a good idea to look back now and for the Capitals to remember what got them here.

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