DAN STEINBERG WASHINGTONPOST.COM/D.C. SPORTS BOG
Two Games. Two Cities. Two Nights. Too Much?
In their first 33 years of existence, the Washington Capitals never played two playoff games in consecutive nights in different cities. Tomorrow, they'll do it for the second time in two years.
The era of seven evenly spaced games has clearly passed, and so the Caps and Pens will hop on planes after Game 4, arrive in the D.C. area late tonight and get back to skating less than 24 hours later. It's not necessarily a popular proposition.
"These are the biggest games, and you want to see the teams at their best," Caps General Manager George McPhee said yesterday. "Neither manager wanted this, neither team wanted this, but it's the way it is this year."
The question then becomes how to deal with the two-day blitz. Brian Pothier said the key moment was actually yesterday, when the Caps did away with practice entirely in an effort to chill. Drink a lot of water, he recommended. Maybe take a short walk around Pittsburgh, catch a movie. Have a quiet lunch at a place called the Grille on Seventh, where the patrons recognized the three hockey players who strolled in.
"The beard kind of throws things off a bit, kind of tips them off," Pothier noted. "Some people at the restaurant kind of look at you cross-eyed a little bit. When you see three 20-something year-olds walk in with kind of weak beards, they figure it out."
Amazingly, one of the employees temporarily removed pro-Pens propaganda so the visiting Caps "could enjoy our lunch a little bit," Pothier said.
As for the fluid consumption, it must continue all day today and into tonight's contest, other players said.
"Water, Gatorade, Pedialyte," Tyler Sloan ticked off. "Don't be spitting all the water out, make sure you're drinking some of it, too."
(Sloan, of course, is a veteran of countless minor league back-to-backs, except those trips often involved five-hour bus rides. "It's tough getting off a bus at 4 in the morning," he said.)
The Penguins' Matt Cooke pointed out that, unlike regular season back-to-backs, both teams are facing identical travel routines. And while he wished his team could fly into National instead of Dulles in order to score a shorter bus ride, he said the real victims are the coaches, who have to stay up all night studying tape. So then, coaches?
"I'll worry about Saturday [on] Saturday," Bruce Boudreau said.
"You have to let go of the game and you have to get right back on the horse," Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma added. "It's gonna happen quick, it's gonna be bang-bang, and on Sunday someone's gonna be ahead in this series."
(Last year, in case you forgot, the Caps won Game 6 in Philadelphia on a Monday, came home that night and saw their season end in Tuesday night's Game 7.)
Anyhow, by this point in the season, we're past dealing with physical hurdles in any sort of real-world manner. For example, defenseman Tom Poti has seemed to be limping lately, at least to the media's untrained eyes, but Boudreau insisted he wasn't injured. "He says it's a good hurt," the coach explained. And 39-year old veteran Sergei Fedorov said he'd "probably feel good" by tomorrow night, "because basically all you do is rest" that day.
"It's playoffs," he continued, "so what the hell. You've got to be ready, no matter what."