NEW YORK – The cheers came through the mirrored doors inside this Central Park hotel and rushed into the room called La Petite Salon, which happened to be located inside a larger room called Le Grand Salon, decorated with chandeliers and ceiling-to-carpet paintings. It was an odd location for the Washington Capitals to spend Friday afternoon holding meetings and working out, let alone addressing reporters after their Game 1 victory over the New York Rangers. But after an exhausting seven-game series with the New York Islanders and the emotions left behind from their Game 1 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, they welcomed the rest.
“I thought we looked like we were still weary from last series, the quick turnaround and the amount of effort and emotion you put into that series,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought we were a little bit flat last night in our game and we’ll have to play a lot better. I think players recognize that.”
It was Trotz, however, who cancelled practice at nearby Chelsea Piers, which would have been a logistical headache involving the Capitals dressing at Madison Square Garden, busing to the waterfront, skating for maybe a half-hour and returning for interviews in midtown Manhattan. He sensed a worn-down team that stumbled from the starting blocks Thursday, already at a disadvantage since the Rangers wrapped up their first-round win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games. He normally consults with players in these situations, but this time made the call himself.
“I think last night he just knew,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I think he just had a feel for it and probably, seeing that we started a little bit slow, that probably factored into it. But that’s a better question for him, I guess. I think we all thought it was the right move.”
So they made plans for the afternoon, trying to rejuvenate before Game 2 on Saturday afternoon. Defenseman Karl Alzner wanted to ride bicycles with his sister in Central Park. Forward Alex Ovechkin suggested going to the Nike store to buy shoes, then eat lunch with his family, then return to the hotel for more team meetings. Defenseman Brooks Orpik expected a team dinner, then gathering around the television to watch the other playoff games – Tampa Bay-Montreal at 7 p.m. and Minnesota-Chicago at 9:30.
The unexpected day off, the first time under Trotz this season the Capitals haven’t held media availability at the rink, also marked a new method they hope will cure their slow-start woes in afternoon games. With the 12:30 p.m. puck drop Saturday, Washington will not have time to skate in the morning at Madison Square Garden, meaning no ice time between forward Joel Ward’s game-winning goal with 1.3 seconds left and the start of Game 2.
“The 12:30 [start] I think we’ve had a little bit of trouble with, so we’re trying a new approach today with having a day off, and you know, good meetings tonight, get prepared tonight, everyone doing their own thing and making sure they’re mentally prepared,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “Tomorrow, guys are going to get to the rink early and going to be excited to play and get a good warm-up in, and once the start of the game comes, the warm-up comes, guys are into it, guys are feeling it, because we can’t afford to have another slow start tomorrow.”
Indeed, the Capitals expected “a lot of desperation” from the Rangers, in Trotz’s words, after the way Game 1 ended, with Nicklas Backstrom checking Dan Boyle along the boards and Ovechkin finding Ward for the buzzer-beater. And so the break from routine at once served as a reward, a rest and a deep breath before trying to return home firmly in control of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“It was a long series against the Islanders and a quick turnaround for us, so I think a lot of us were kind of drained after the game last night, both mentally and physically, and at this point in the year, I mean, you’re not getting all that much out of practice, really,” Orpik said. “It’s just about adjustments you can make on video and making sure your bodies are healthy, so I think it was a good move for us.”
NOTES: Forward Marcus Johansson, who did not return to the ice with the Capitals before the second period but later rejoined them on the bench, had “a little bit of an equipment problem and just got a little tangled up at one point,” Trotz said, “but he should be fine.” Even after walking from the tunnel with a team trainer and sitting back down, Johansson didn’t skate until midway through the second period while Trotz double-shifted Ovechkin. He later skated around during a television timeout and played shortly thereafter … Forward Eric Fehr will miss Game 2 with an upper-body injury, suffered during Game 3 against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. “I don’t have a target date,” Trotz said, when asked for one.