Unlike the morning after the Washington Capitals’ 2-1 triple-overtime loss to the New York Rangers in Game 3, Brooks Laich didn’t wake up Tuesday with the feeling that the season was over.
After what should have been a Game 5 victory over the Rangers came crashing down in the final 7.6 seconds of regulation, Laich woke up disappointed in himself for not picking up Joel Ward. It was Ward’s double-minor penalty for high-sticking with 21.3 seconds left that led to two goals in Monday night’s 3-2 overtime defeat.
“You have to accept the bad with the good, I guess,” he said. “Good breaks, bad breaks. We just keep moving forward.”
That’s all the Capitals can do going into Wednesday’s Game 6 at Verizon Center, facing elimination without the opponent in the same spot for the first time during these playoffs. It’s a difficult position to be in, made even harder by the need to quickly rebound from a devastating loss.
“You will. It’s tough. There’s no doubt when you’re so close to winning the game and all of a sudden you’re on your heels and you end up losing,” alternate captain Mike Knuble said. “Good thing is we’re going home, have a big home game Wednesday, and we’ll have a chance to try to bring a seventh game back [to New York].”
The Caps bounced back from overtime losses to win the next game three times in this postseason, including the Game 3 marathon in this series. But given that this one was in the bag until Brad Richards’ goal in the waning seconds, the emotional turnaround might be tougher than losing in triple overtime.
“I think so, but you’ve just got to forget about it,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “It’s bad luck I think, it’s just [7.6] seconds left and the puck was bouncing all over the place. I guess that happens in hockey sometimes and you’ve just got to bounce back.”
Frustration mixed with despair in the moments after Game 5, which ended on defenseman Marc Staal’s power-play goal just 1:35 into overtime. All Ward could do was watch from the penalty box.
“It’s definitely a letdown. I definitely let the squad down,” Ward said. “I cost us the game with a terrible play.”
Teammates were quick to say it wasn’t Ward’s fault. The Capitals missed several chances to expand their lead in the third, and they lost the game’s final seven faceoffs. The penalty kill also imploded after not allowing the Rangers a shot on their first three chances.
All that considered, they were close to turning the tables and taking a 3-2 series lead.
“A loss is a loss. We know we should’ve won that game, so we have a good feeling in this game,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s not like we got beat 5-0; it was a close one that we should’ve put away in the third there. It’s just a game.”
A day away from on-ice work that included a team meeting and video session might be the kind of separation they need from the OT loss.
“I think everyone’s realizing that let’s just get it out of our heads now, let’s just focus on what we need to focus on,” defenseman John Carlson said. “That stuff happens.”
Marcus Johansson and others said the Caps need to accentuate the positives from Game 5, such as getting quality scoring chances and another solid outing from rookie goalie Braden Holtby. Another positive is that, not counting shootouts, they haven’t lost back-to-back games since mid-March.
That shows a resiliency that the Caps need now more than ever.
“We have a very good hockey team. We never get too high, never get too low. We stay pretty composed,” Laich said. “I just think we control our emotions a little better. I mean, even when we win, we’re not bouncing off the ceiling. It’s more of a business atmosphere. And when we lose, we know we can bounce back.”