Waves of reporters washed up at Rod Langway's locker the other night to talk hockey. It was a funny thing. He hadn't scored a goal for the Washington Capitals in the just-completed game, nor had he come back from an injured knee. If you had read the statistics sheet, you wouldn't have known he had played that night. His name never was mentioned.
No matter. This was after Game 1 of the playoffs Wednesday night. The dreaded New York Islanders, who have eliminated the Capitals the past three playoffs, had been defeated, 3-1. What did this mean? Was a trend developing? Or was this just more prolonged agony?
It was time to see Langway. The search for perspective always seems to end at his locker.
"Past history is past history," he said. "You don't live in the past in athletics. You do that with negotiations for contracts. You don't do it when you step on the ice. You don't think about what's happened the last three years."
To be sure, Langway has his playoff lines down. At 28, he is the only Capital to own a Stanley Cup ring, which he earned seven years ago when he was with Montreal. He has been voted the Capitals' most valuable player ever since he got here. Coach Bryan Murray calls him "a coach on the ice."
You notice him immediately on the ice. He is one of the few men in the National Hockey League who plays without a helmet. Yet he still dives in front of slap shots, which explains why his long nose doglegs left to right down his face.
How many times has it been broken?
"Too many times," he said. "Eight to 10."
Like any other Capital, he didn't want to make too much of one game, even one in a best-of-five series. But he has been watching his team for a long time. And, win or lose the rest of the way, he saw some things Wednesday he liked.
"It was probably the most complete game we've played in a long time," he said. "We were workmanlike, just like the Islanders always play. You can't be emotional. You've got to be neutral. That's been something we've had to work on.
"Emotion will win some games for you, but an emotional team will get drained faster than a workmanlike team. All of a sudden, you'll make a mistake, and once that mistake hits an emotional team, there's a big drop. That didn't happen to us because we stayed controlled."
Langway said the Capitals played a "safe" game, "not a showboat game." What that means, in simplistic terms, is that every other Capital played like Langway.
With three seconds to play in the game and the Islanders on the power play, Langway, a defenseman, was taking a faceoff.
"He's big and strong," said Murray. "We were in a defensive situation. I like to get him involved in those areas."
With one second left in the game, the clock suddenly stopped, rudely interrupting the fans' countdown to zero.
Langway was sitting on the puck.
The Islanders, down by two goals with no hope remaining, were rushing in on Peeters, nonetheless. They moved in front of the net, the puck got loose, Langway fell and the puck stopped there.
Where there's potential trouble, there's Langway.
"He's just a solid guy," Murray said.
Langway, who hangs pictures of his children in the back of his locker, makes hockey sound so simple.
"If everybody does their little job -- and that's what it is, just a little job -- it makes the big job a lot easier," he said. "Maybe we're just more experienced and stronger. Stronger mentally, too. I say, 'Hey, I can do that.' I can cover my man . . . I can do a little trick or get inside of him, stop his momentum from going in on the net, or just tie his stick up."
Langway skates backwards often, watching as he moves away from the action. In Game 1, he saw the Washington forwards send the puck into the Islanders' end time and again. He knew what it was doing to the New York defense.
"We made them turn and chase the puck," Langway said. "We did our job."
Bottled up in their end, the Islanders often got away for just one shot at Peeters before Langway and the troops cleared the rebounds.
"The strength of our defense," Langway said. "No rebounds."
The locker room was clearing out. It had been relatively quiet, especially for a bunch of winners.
Langway stared into more microphones and notebooks. His voice was gliding.
"There's more to do," he said. "This isn't over."