Finding a way to respond from demoralizing defeats is nothing new for this year’s Washington Capitals. They’ve managed to follow up disappointing losses by rallying around each other for weeks now, throughout the playoffs and dating from the end of the regular season.
When they host the New York Rangers for Game 6 on Wednesday night, though, the Capitals will face the greatest challenge to their collective resiliency as they try to stave off elimination.
Washington trails the top-seeded Rangers three games to two in their Eastern Conference semifinal series, and a loss at Verizon Center would end the season. That finality is why the Capitals can’t afford to dwell on the mistakes in the final two minutes of Game 5 that allowed New York to force overtime and then claim a 3-2 overtime victory.
“I think everyone’s realizing that let’s just get it out of our heads now,” defenseman John Carlson said after a video session Tuesday. “Let’s just focus on what we need to focus on. That stuff happens. It’s no one’s fault. There’s no one to blame. As a team, it just didn’t bounce our way.
“I think that we’re all together, we all stand behind one another in there,” Carlson added. “We’re a team. We’re a team right now and I think that’s the most important thing for us — to get through a bad ending like that last game.”
While the Capitals vie to extend their season, New York wants to avoid another contest at Madison Square Garden and not give the upstart seventh seed a chance at survival.
“We want to close it out. We want to get this over with,” Rangers forward Brad Richards told reporters in New York on Tuesday. “A lot easier said than done. We want to have the mind-set that we are as desperate as they are, and we want to bring that right into the first shift and try to get this over with right away.”
Trailing 3-2 in a best-of-seven series hasn’t been a fortunate scenario for the Capitals over the course of their history: They’ve advanced to the next round only two of the 11 times they have been in that situation.
Of those previous occurrences, Washington was eliminated in six games six times, eliminated in seven games three times and won in seven games twice. The two victories came in 2009 against the Rangers and in 1988 against the Philadelphia Flyers, when Dale Hunter, now the team’s coach, scored the series-clinching goal in overtime.
After playing 12 close games this spring, 11 of which were decided by one goal, the Capitals know they can give themselves an opportunity to win any contest and that they can bounce back from a loss. Washington hasn’t fallen in consecutive games since late March and is 3-0 after overtime losses in the playoffs. The most recent example came when the Capitals followed up a heartbreaking loss in triple overtime to New York with a tenacious showing in a 3-2 victory in Game 4.
“You push, and the other team pushes back. That’s what happens when there are two very evenly matched teams. And we’re going to look to push back tomorrow,” said forward Brooks Laich, who added that the Capitals have a different mind-set this postseason. “I just think we control our emotions a little better. I mean, even when we win, we’re not bouncing off the ceiling. It’s more of a business atmosphere. And when we lose, we know we can bounce back.”
Even rookie netminder Braden Holtby, who has faced elimination in the Stanley Cup playoffs just once — in Game 7 of the first round against Boston — has shown he can distance himself from a loss or poor outing immediately. Holtby has gone 28 NHL starts since November 2010 without consecutive losses.
In the playoffs Holtby is 5-0 with a .959 save percentage following a loss. That drive is why Hunter said he isn’t concerned about the 22-year-old’s ability to rebound.
“He’s a resilient kid and he’s a battler; he’s going to come out and battle again,” said Hunter, who dismissed the notion that there could be a carryover from the Game 5 loss.
“No, the guys are going to come out and battle,” he said. “That’s all you ask from your team, is to go out and battle. We win at home; that’s what we need to do.”
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