WASHINGTON, D.C. —Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz sat at the podium after his team had defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on May 21 and looked remarkably calm. In fact, when the question of what Game 7 might mean to the Capitals, where these type of games have not always been their best, Trotz remained settled.
“I don’t think there’s a team I’ve ever had that I’d want to go into a Game 7 with (more),” Trotz said. “This team has done a lot of special things this year.”
They did another special thing on May 23, stunning the Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 in Tampa and earning their second trip to the Stanley Cup in team history. Washington was matched up with former general manager George McPhee, who built the first-year Vegas Golden Knights into a one-year wonder. They became just the second NHL expansion team ever to make the finals.
And that forced the Capitals to play in their first Stanley Cup championship round in 20 years against the man who built a large part of the present-day team before being let go four years ago.
The series began on May 28 with the first home game for the Capitals set for June 2 at 8 p.m. That is going to be Game 3 of the series. Game 4 also is going to be in Washington on June 4.
The series would then, if needed, go to Vegas for Game 5 on June 7, back to D.C. for Game 6 before a Game 7 would be played out West on June 13.
The biggest question is whether the Capitals can finally shed the lack of success problems – especially in the playoffs – that have dogged them over the years. In 43 seasons, Washington has never won the Stanley Cup. The only time the Capitals made it came 20 years ago when Detroit swept them in four games.
But this team may be different. Trotz and the team work on not worrying about the wrong things and focusing on the here and now. They just worry about the next play, the next thing – not the next game.
“You’ve just got to roll with the punches at this time of year,” Trotz said. “I think we’ve been able to do that. We’ve never wavered.”
Goalie Braden Holtby is a perfect example of that. He was benched at the start of the first playoff series against Columbus three rounds ago, but Trotz put him back in during Game 2, and Holtby has never looked back.
He blanked the high-scoring Lightning in Game 6 (3-0) and Game 7 (4-0) and said heading into the final that the team would not be worried about anything other than what was coming next.
They will want to do the same thing in the championship round.
“We’ve done a really good job this playoffs of just staying in the moment, one game at a time,” Holtby said.
The Capitals wanted to make some noise in this year’s playoffs and change the team’s playoff history. Anyone who follows the team and probably some who played with them knows that the playoffs just have not been kind to the Washington Capitals.
After last week’s Game 7 victory over the Lightning, Washington improved to 5-11 in those series-ending contests. They’ve blown leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in series. The team has lost in numerous heartbreaking ways, but this year, things have been different so far.
The Capitals beat long-time nemesis Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs and now, after defeating the Lightning – despite trailing 3-2 in the series – Alex Ovechkin will play in the Stanley Cup for the first time.
And he’s a little excited, something that came out in his press conference in Vegas on Sunday when asked on his thoughts.
“You know like we want to be here,” Ovechkin said. “We work so hard all year. I don’t think nobody believes in us, and nobody believes in Vegas, and we’re right now in the Stanley Cup Finals, and we fight for a Cup. Come enjoy this moment.”