Saturday night after the Capitals’ final game of the regular season, Coach Adam Oates addressed the team. He told the players to expect a Tuesday start for their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers, but as it turned out, the Capitals will wait until Thursday to kick off the first round.
“We thought we were gonna play tomorrow and it’s obviously two more days,” Oates said. “Same for everybody, and both teams have guys a little bit banged up. Couple more days to heal.”
The series is starting two days later than anticipated because of scheduling conflicts both at Verizon Center and Madison Square Garden.
To find a date for a potential Game 7 in Washington, the NHL had to avoid Taylor Swift’s two-day concert tour stop at Verizon Center on May 11 and 12. (The concert was scheduled in November during the NHL lockout). And Sunday May 5 wasn’t available at the Garden because of Game 7 of the New York Knicks’ first round playoff series. To accommodate the events at both buildings, the series was pushed back to a Thursday start.
Extended stretches off between games were rare this shortened 48-game regular season, and neither the Capitals nor Rangers had this many days off between games during the regular season.
Several players, though, said they don’t mind the additional time to regroup before the postseason gantlet.
“For me, personally – I can’t speak for the whole team, but we needed some days off here or there so we can rest our body before we get into it,” Mike Green said. “But you know, we want to make sure that we’re staying focused mentally and we’re not going to lose a step after the way we played over the last two, three weeks, and we want to keep that momentum going this first game of the playoffs.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby agreed: “It’s a little bit of a break; it’s probably nice right now. It’s been a pretty big grind and this will allow a lot of the guys to heal up and we’re going to use it to our advantage and prepare that way.”
Not everyone on the roster wants to have three days of waiting for the emotional cauldron that is the Stanley Cup playoffs, though. Matt Hendricks called the late start “kind of odd” and said he wouldn’t have minded a faster start, even if that would have been a more frantic first round.
“It’s a lot of days to sit around and practice,” said Hendricks, who added that he doesn’t think it will be a problem for the Capitals to maintain their emotion. “The good thing about it is that it’s the first round. And you’re going to have that jittery feeling, you’re going to have that emotion that the playoffs haven’t started. It’s not like you’re sitting between rounds waiting. This is going to be the beginning of the playoffs. So you’re going to get that extra juice right away just because of that, and I think that’ll help us for sure.”