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CAPITALS: Perspective Will Help In Moving On After Three-Overtime Loss
ARLINGTON – The Washington Capitals weren’t technically off on Thursday. Their game against the New York Rangers stretched into the waning minutes of the morning, wrapping up at 12:14 a.m. when Marian Gaborik put the puck into the Capitals’ net with 5:19 remaining in the third overtime.
But they were left to their own devices no more than nine hours later, when some players began strolling through the doors at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Head coach Dale Hunter had given them the day off, a luxury provided by a two-day gap in the Eastern Conference semifinal schedule, and only the Capitals goalies not named Braden Holtby and a select few healthy scratches were on the ice.
“Last night, being a long game for both teams, it’s – you know, you get a break, and you have practice tomorrow,” Hunter tried to explain late Thursday morning. “The fans will see another good hockey game on Saturday afternoon because the guys will be fresh.”
What took place at Verizon Center on Wednesday was more than a good hockey game. It was a splendid, balanced affair – one where play was tight and quality shots were hard to come by yet opportunities were abound. The number of missed game-winners kept players on each teams focused, and the crowd, most of which stayed until the end, kept the atmosphere fresh.
Troy Brouwer had the first chance to end it, missing an open net wide right five minutes into the first overtime. Alex Ovechkin had a try of his own, clanking the puck off the right post 10 minutes later that was so close, sirens sounded and spotlights shone.
The Rangers had their opportunities too, with center Brian Boyle in the way of teammate Mike Rupp’s shot with 3:33 left in the second overtime, and Gaborik also banged one off the right post eight minutes before his winner.
“I think it was that kind of game,” Ovechkin said afterward. “You know, I think both teams fight very well, and that kind of moment, you know – you just have to use your chances. One chance. One chance. They have it and they scored.”
At 114 minutes and 41 seconds, it was the third-longest game the Capitals have ever played. For the Rangers, in existence since 1926, it was their fifth-longest. Washington players tried to stay sharp during the intermissions by rehydrating and eating oranges, bananas and rice, and Ovechkin, among others, was devouring energy bars while on the bench.
“Our legs aren’t as young as they used to be, when you could play two or three games in a day and then go out and play some street hockey after that,” Brouwer said after the game. “It’s gonna be good for us to get some rest.”
Hunter played in the Capitals’ longest game, a four-overtime, 3-2 first-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh in 1996 that was 45 seconds away from beginning another frame. Of course, he still holds memories from that game, which was won on a late power play wrister by Petr Nedved.
“A long game like this, it’s tiresome,” Hunter said. “You remember them games when you get my age, how much fun it was playing in triple overtimes. You remember how much a battle it was and the sacrifices you make, and you always have good memories – bad or good, win or lose.”
Shortly before Bruce Boudreau was fired as head coach in late November after nearly five whole years, he said he didn’t know how to teach his players to be mentally tough. Though it took some time, Hunter has successfully instilled that mindset – one demonstrated by the Capitals throughout this postseason, as they’ve responded to early struggles, late deficits and three previous overtime games without any visible difficulties.
Being Game 3, and not later in the best-of-seven series, moving past the loss should be easier to overcome. Aside from the outcome, Brouwer had no qualms, no objections, to the Capitals’ effort.
“We’ve got to be proud of how well we played and the things that we did,” Brouwer said. “Creating scoring opportunities, guys are diving to blocks shots, collapsing to the house, doing a lot of the things we need to do to win hockey games – if we play like that most of the time, we’ll come out on top.”
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