Following Game 1’s morning skate, the Washington Capitals’ locker room seemed to be a bit tense and serious.
The answers to questions were a bit tense, militant and serious. It appeared virtually everybody had already entered game mode.
But the morning skate preceding Game 2 seemed to be a bit different. Most guys were only on the ice for roughly 20 minutes. The team primarily stretched, worked on special teams, face-offs and casually shot the puck around.
Inside the locker room, most guys seemed a bit more relaxed and a bit excited to get another playoff game under their belt.
Game 1 may have been an internal shock to the psyche of the team. Down 2-0 to a team that many hockey analysts and fans alike seemed to write off as an easy opponent for the juggernaut in Washington, the Capitals nearly let their home ice advantage slip away.
If that was the mindset of the team heading into Game 1, that the Maple Leafs were no where close to the skill level of the Capitals—and that seems pretty doubtful—it certainly isn’t now. The Capitals view Toronto as a team that earned a right to play, and they, like any other team, command respect.
Part of the reason this is even a conversation about the Capitals is because of those first 10 minutes. The Capitals will obviously look to have a much better start in Game 2, but is that critical in sucking the life out of a team that is a lesser seed?
Nope, at least not according to the most seasoned playoff veteran on the roster.
“I don’t buy into any of that crap,” Justin Williams said. “These are two great hockey teams. The hardest part is getting into the playoffs. Half the teams don’t make it. You’re getting a great team. So this one versus eight, it’s simply a number. We’re going to look to have a better start than last game.”
So, what is crucial in getting the opponent out of the game?
It’s about negating a positive mindset.
“Winning playoffs series is [about] making it too hard for the other team,” Williams said. “Having them realize, you know, this is too hard. Then you have it won. We expect long series’ every time we come into them. This one is certainly no different.”
Jay Beagle credits the slow start in Game 1 to being a bit too amped up for the game. Not only did the Maple Leafs happy-go-lucky nature cause some problems, but the crowd may have played a bit of a role as well.
“Yeah, I mean, we knew that they were going to come at us pretty hard,” Beagle said. “They’re a young team that really comes at us fast. It’s the Verizon Center, it’s an awesome place to play, and we were fired up.”
But Beagle pointed out a key piece of information that many around the hockey world seem to be forgetting: the Capitals won the game. He admitted that it was a bit ugly, but in the grand scheme of things, the Capitals still got one step closer to closing out a series and distancing themselves from their opponent.
“We played one game and we won,” Barry Trotz said. “I think we’re making too much of a big deal about nothing right now.”
Beagle summed it up the best. That locker room is filled with 23 guys that are living their dream. They all asked to be apart of this. They all want to be there, and no one ever said the path to the ultimate goal is easy. So while Game 1 offered a bit of a scare, maybe even a scare that served as a wakeup call, and it is still entirely unknown what Game 2 and beyond will offer, the Capitals are still here.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Beagle said. “It’s a lot of fun. Down two we were even smiling at each other, saying let’s get going here. It’s fun. Everyone wants to be apart of this and be in a playoff series.
“This is what you play for.”