- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The organized chaos, as Barry Trotz later called it, didn’t faze the Washington Capitals one bit.

With 1:21 remaining in their game on Monday, the Capitals faced a disadvantage, the New York Rangers having pulled goaltender Henrik Lundqvist from net. They trailed by one goal, and the extra attacker essentially permitted them 81 seconds of a power play — one that the Capitals had no problem handling.

They faced five shot attempts, blocking four of them, and iced the puck twice. They won both of the ensuing defensive-zone faceoffs, then withstood a furious final 20 seconds to preserve a 1-0 victory.

“That’s what we’ve worked for all year,” said goaltender Braden Holtby, who made 30 saves for his second career playoff shutout. “We’ve tried to become playoff ready so that it wasn’t a shock, so that we wouldn’t have to do anything different. We just focused on our game, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”

One of the primary effects of installing Trotz’s physical, defensive system is that it’s a style should hold up to the rigors of postseason hockey. The offensive-minded approaches taken under previous coaches Adam Oates and Bruce Boudreau, while effective during the regular season, can be mitigated in the playoffs when opponents shut down specific players or a team merely has a poor shooting night.

The Capitals have, thus far, been wholly averse to such issues, with one goal deciding the result in seven of their first 10 playoff games. Entering Game 4 of Washington’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Rangers, they have rarely been out of a game before the final whistle.

That’s because, they say, they have been taking the do-or-die, one-game playoff approach for the final months of the season, owing to their early hole in the standings and their desire to avoid missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

“I think the last couple of games in regular year, we tried to play how we gonna play in playoffs,” left wing Alex Ovechkin said Wednesday, following the team’s morning skate. “Of course, it was not the same atmosphere. It was not the mindset, because we knew weren’t in playoffs. Maybe you just give your body a little bit not 100 percent effort, but I think [Holtby’s] right. This group of guys was ready for a big step, and we’re gonna do as much of a big step as we can.”

A road victory over New Jersey on Dec. 6 put Washington firmly in the playoff picture, but its seeding was constantly in flux. On April 1, the Capitals were fourth in the division but the top wild-card team; only after snagging seven of a possible 10 points in their final five games — and getting help — did Washington secure the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division.

“I think if you look at our last 12 games, 15 games, we probably had the hardest schedule, in terms of opponents’ winning percentage of anybody, and I think we faired pretty well,” Trotz said. “We had to up our game, and we did, and I think it’s just carried over.”

Holtby entered Wednesday’s game having allowed no more than one goal in 12 of his 15 career playoff victories, including his each of his previous nine. It’s a fine line for the Capitals, who have won two of those nine games by more than one goal.

“I think the main thing for us is being able to play down a goal or in a tight game like last game, but we still find ways to stick with it,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “If we get scored on, we bounce back, and that’s been the biggest change, the biggest help, I think.”

• Zac Boyer can be reached at zboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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