In hindsight, the somnambulant man behind the bench who never seems to get excited over anything can no longer be viewed as an emotionless, uninspiring leader who, if you walked up to him and told him his pants are on fire, might respond: “That’s hockey. We’ll battle.”
Hunter’s inner and outward calm has helped keep the Capitals’ ship upright during the major storms of this postseason; in the Rangers series, that includes a triple-overtime loss in Game 3 and a crushing overtime loss in Game 5. Indeed, this Capitals team has become Hunter, unfazed by it all.
The job facing General Manager George McPhee is to sell Hunter on staying. The team’s coach is already leading a locker room full of converted souls.
“Absolutely,” Nicklas Backstrom said Wednesday night when asked if he wanted Hunter to return. “I don’t see another guy coming in. I would like to see him back here. Hopefully he enjoys life here, too, and he likes to be here.”
Said Matt Hendricks: “He’s brought a new culture to us. When you start to talk about blocking shots and winning faceoffs continually and it happens, it starts to build pride in the room for guys.”
Jason Chimera, noting skilled stars Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin blocking shots, added: “When you see guys diving in front of pucks, you know things have changed. If he returns, that would be good for us.”
Hunter might never be as chatty as Boudreau. But that’s okay, Karl Alzner said.
“He doesn’t waste any words,” Alzner said. “I bet you he’s spoken probably less words than I have and he’s been alive twice as long as me.”
I asked Hunter if he had heard from any of the players who criticized his lack of communication or his decisions earlier this season. “I haven’t had conversations, but I feel like they have shown me with their play,” he said. “They showed me they are winners.”