Rolling up a ball of used surgical tape as the dryer roared down the hall during the busiest night of laundry at Verizon Center since Easter Sunday 2003, Craig “Woody” Leydig straightened up the cubicles of Ovi and the boys before the team’s assistant equipment manager since the 1980s began locking up.
Late 40s, Woody could pass for 10 or 15 years younger. Squat, fit, he still has two things: all his hair and all his hope.
“Tough loss?” he was asked.
“They all are,” Woody said after the Rangers had outlasted the Capitals, 2-1, in three instant-classic overtimes that marked the Caps’ third-longest playoff game.
Woody shook his head and added, “We’re getting soooo close.”
In Washington on Thursday, many of the old-time Caps legions ruminated about being 0-4 in epic, three- and four-overtime affairs, how the other team always gets sudden life to their team’s sudden death. Indeed, in 1987 and 2003 those goals ended the Capitals’ season on their home ice.
But what if you had to make sure Peter Bondra got an extra pair of socks between the second and third overtimes in 1996? What if you made sure Rod Langway could be confident that he could change from his sweat-soaked undergarments one overtime into clean, dry ones for the next one in 1987?
And as the players trudged in the locker room between each extra intermission in different decades, their quadriceps on fire and every part of their bodies in varying states of exhaustion, your job was to help get them ready to go back out again.
You’d probably feel 4-0 — because you got the chance to be closer to some of the greatest players in the NHL than even a team owner, because you were part of history.
Asked if he ever developed a here-we-go-again, pessimistic attitude about extra periods and the Capitals in the playoffs, Woody shook his head again.
“I always got a good feeling, you know, try to possess that feel-good vibe,” he said. “Just keep it going, try to pump the guys up, be a cheerleader in the room. That’s how you got to be.”
The puck dropped at 7:40 p.m. Wednesday night. Marian Gaborik’s goal with about five minutes left in the sixth 20-minute period came at 12:14 a.m. Thursday. In between, Rangers defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal combined for almost 103 minutes of ice time and an ungodly 123 shifts. Alex Ovechkin, who played a career playoff-low 13 minutes 36 seconds in Game 2 on Monday, played almost three times that for his 35 minutes in Game 3. The losing goalie, the Caps’ brilliant Braden Holtby, stopped 47 shots. Matt Hendricks had 11 hits and nearly a game-winning assist, resembling more a perennial NHL all-star than a third-line center.