- - Tuesday, June 5, 2018


I found it.

I found the difference maker for the Washington Capitals this time around in the Stanley Cup playoffs, compared to previous failed attempts at success.

Coach Barry Trotz dropped it on reporters after Monday night’s 6-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at the Capital One Arena to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 5 Thursday night in Las Vegas.

Urgency. Another level.

“We are a mature team in the fact that we know we have another level,” Trotz said. “We have another level of urgency in our game.”

That word should sound familiar to Capitals fans. They’ve heard it before from the Capitals coach – typically explaining what this team lacked following a postseason loss.

“I don’t think we were as urgent on the puck,” Trotz said after a 2016 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

And last year, following a March 4-2 loss at home to the Dallas Stars, Trotz again spoke of urgency. “We’ve got to get a little more urgency in our games early,” he said.

And what is the twin brother of urgency? Desperation.

“I don’t think we had enough desperation,” Nate Schmidt — yes, Vegas’ Nate Schmidt — said after a 2017 playoff loss to Pittsburgh. “We had some penalties, and it’s hard to get momentum going then, but we have to come out desperate from the drop of the puck.”

“We have to come out harder and have to show more desperation,” Nicklas Backstrom said after that Pittsburgh loss.

It’s a telling exercise to compare the language of the Capitals from those past playoff losses to the descriptions you hear now about this team. And the language from their victorious opponents of playoff pasts.

All Penguins coach Mike Sullivan could talk about last year in their series against the Capitals was his team’s “compete level:”

“They were not perfect by any stretch, but I love our compete level.”

“We played the game hard. Thought our guys competed extremely hard tonight. I loved our compete level.”

Those were the 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins. These are the 2018 Washington Capitals.

“When it mattered we were able to get it done,” Trotz said after Monday night’s win. “And that’s what this team has done over the course of the playoffs. Even when we’re maybe not at our best we’ve been able to get it done.”

This has been an evolution of coach and team, a coach who has been determined to build a tough enough locker room to overcome the burdens of past failures and rise to new successes.

Last season, that loss to Dallas that ended a 15-game home winning streak for Washington, Trotz thought perhaps they had gotten to that point.

“We have learned some lessons,” he said. “I think our room is real strong. I think our culture has grown from year one to two to three. It’s just changed, the culture has changed over the course of time. Winning just doesn’t happen, you have to create that culture, that response … I think it is a little bit different. It’s grown. You have to build it, grow it, and I think our leadership, our staff and organization has done that.”

But it wasn’t quite there – until now.

Here is what you hear out of the Capitals’ locker room now.

“It’s been one of our strengths to make sure that we’re in the right place mentally,” John Carlson said. “I think everyone knows the stakes. There’s nothing, no opportunity that’s going to pass by that we’re not going to give it all we’ve got. That stays with us, the same mentality that we’ve had after losing the first game against Columbus. Come back with a better plan, better execution, make the plays that we know we can make - that gives you a better chance to win.”

And here is Backstrom, who has stood in front of his locker so many times trying to explain playoff failures with words like “urgency” and “desperation.”

“I feel like we have to keep going and keep grinding and we are a good hockey team and we saw after the first two that they were coming out hard and they are dangerous so yeah we just got to reset and look for the next game,” he said.

I’ve never heard Backstrom use the word “grinding” to describe a Capitals team. Then again, we are talking about a different language for this franchise.

⦁ Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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