Columbus Blue Jackets Coach John Tortorella spoke to the media for less than two minutes after his team’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, a terse session that began with awkward silence in the room.
“Staring contest,” Tortorella grumbled to himself, clearly on edge after his team squandered a pivotal Game 5 and now faces elimination Monday night in Ohio. When a reporter asked how his team would rebound from being down 3-2 in this grueling first-round series, Tortorella muttered an eight-word answer.
“We will be back here for Game 7,” he said, before doubling down after another question about how he would prepare his team for the next game. “I won’t have to say a damn word to them. We’ll be back here for Game 7.”
Tortorella then walked off the podium, becoming the second coach in as many years to guarantee a Game 6 win in the first round against the Capitals. After Toronto fell into a 3-2 series hole against Washington in the first round last spring, Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock told arena workers that he would see them soon for Game 7.
That didn’t work out as Babcock predicted: Washington eliminated the Maple Leafs in Toronto in Game 6. Tortorella appeared convinced that his team would not follow the same path after Saturday’s crushing loss, but it also underscored how prevalent – and perhaps irrelevant – postseason guarantees have become.
It was the second guarantee in this series alone. After Washington fell into a 2-0 hole with overtime losses in the first two games, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said his team would be back in Washington for Game 5 with the series tied at 2.
“How I said after the second game, we’re going to come home for Game 5, and for Game 5 it’s going to be tied,” Ovechkin said.
He was right. Washington won two games in Columbus and overcame a sloppy third period Saturday to escape in overtime on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal. But Ovechkin has long made a habit of guaranteeing postseason wins, and his words didn’t seem to cause a stir in Columbus’s dressing room. Ovechkin’s guarantee almost seemed expected.
“As he should,” Columbus forward Thomas Vanek said before Game 4. “If we’re down, it doesn’t matter what team you’re on; I think your mind-set is to win the next game.”
Now Columbus is down, and the tension between the clubs only intensified Saturday. It is certainly a mirror of last year. A few minutes after Tortorella left his brief session with reporters, it was Capitals Coach Barry Trotz’s turn to speak. Trotz was calm and didn’t turn stern until the final question of the night — regarding Tortorella’s guarantee — was posed.
“What else are you going to say? That’s good. He wants to get it out there he believes in his team, just as I believe in my team,” Trotz said. “So it’s our job for that not to happen. We’re going to try to do that, so.”
Trotz then smacked his hand on the lectern and walked out of the room suddenly, off to begin his preparation for Game 6.
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