“The hardest thing is to stay focused in overtime,” Ribeiro said. “You see the time going down. Chances are going up and down [the ice]. It’s really hard to stay composed and not freak out when you have the puck. You have to keep it simple at that time.”
Keeping it simple, though, might mean not pushing for a scoring opportunity. There is, then, a balance, one that the Capitals have discussed. The system installed by first-year Coach Adam Oates, in fact, deals with such situations: If players are to take risks, they’re not in risky areas of the ice.
“Hopefully, the way we play allows good things to unfold in the right places,” Oates said. “You’re not trying to make some miracle play in an area that we would never do at any time of the game. We chip the puck, we put it in a certain situation. [If] it goes off a guy’s knee incorrectly, we’re still safe.”
Safety will be a key in Game 6. But evaluating what is safe and what isn’t can be difficult, too. Oates, for one, believes there are more icing calls late in playoff games because players are simply desperate to clear the puck from their own zone — even if it means creating a faceoff back in that zone again. One of Oates’s assistants, Calle Johansson, has discussed with the defensemen that in these tight playoff games, no decisions can be made halfway.
“When you start to push, and you see a play, you’ve got to go for it,” Alzner said. “. . . Trust your read. If you’re going to make the right read, you should go all-in.”
They will be all-in Sunday night, with a chance to end the series, even if by a scant margin. Ten times in the last five years the Capitals have earned a chance to win the next game and advance to the next round. They have won only three of those games. Yet here they will be late Sunday afternoon, with the tension back, tiptoeing up to that line between making a play, and making a mistake.
“You can’t live in fear,” Chimera said. “You’ve got to try to make some plays.”