'We have a lot of belief': Capitals have no doubts with series tied against pesky Maple Leafs
Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom (19) celebrates his goal with Alex Ovechkin (8), Matt Niskanen (2), Dmitry Orlov (9) and Justin Williams (14) against the Maple Leafs during Game 2 of their first-round playoff series in Washington on Saturday, April 15, 2017. (Molly Riley/AP Photo)
Doubt was the word coming out of Washington following Saturday night’s Game 2 loss to Toronto. But it came with an asterisk.
As in, even after losing 4-3 in double overtime to the Maple Leafs, no one really doubts that the Capitals will actually blow this series. Need an example? Head coach Barry Trotz had several of them — in overtime alone.
What if Alex Ovechkin hadn’t been stopped on that breakaway? What if Brett Connolly’s shot hadn’t rang off the post? What if Marcus Johansson, who was alone in the slot in the dying seconds of the third period, managed to squeeze the puck past Toronto’s goalie?
“He scores there and we’re probably going, ‘Thank you very much,’ and it’s a different story,” said Trotz. “That’s the great thing about the playoffs. There’s different storylines.”
Had Washington capitalized on what Trotz called “four or five absolute outstanding chances to win the game,” the Capitals would be up 2-0 and the story coming out today would be how this series was practically over. Instead, with Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen scoring in double OT, the series is now tied 1-1 and theoretically just getting started.
“They won a game in our building, so the series is on. It’s on,” said Trotz. “We won a hockey game in overtime and they regrouped and had a real good effort (Saturday) night and they end up winning a hockey game. We got to do the same. We got to go into Toronto, regroup and go win a hockey game in Toronto. It’s no different than what they went through the other night.”
A best-of-seven playoff series is all about managing momentum. It’s OK to lose two or three games, but just not in a row. That’s why Toronto’s win was so important.
Before Kapanen scored the winner, the Leafs were a team that got close but hadn’t sealed the deal. By winning, a very young team now has an actual reason to believe that a first-round upset might be possible.
For the Capitals, whose ghosts of the past are still hanging around and haunting the team, there is a chance that the opposite might occur.
Of course, the Leafs will probably have to win Game 3 — and maybe even Game 4 — to cause some real uncertainty in Washington’s players. Either way, with the series tied and heading to Toronto, the outcome does not seem as preordained as it did when the playoffs began.
“I think you go into every series hoping that you win every game, but the reality of the playoffs — and you can look around at any of the series for the most part — the teams that are in the playoffs are very, very good,” said Trotz. “They’re in the playoffs for a reason. There’s teams that are not in the playoffs that are very, very good that some of them were expected to be Stanley Cup finalists and they’re not there.”
Indeed, because of parity, upsets feel less like upsets these days. Is Toronto, a team that finished with three fewer points than the second-best team in the Atlantic Division, really an underdog? Are the St. Louis Blues, who had three less wins than the Minnesota Wild, surprising anyone to be up 3-0 in their series?
In the Western Conference, the top-seeded Blackhawks are down 2-0 to the eighth-seeded Predators after being shut out in Games 1 and 2. That’s the same Nashville team that finished with 15 fewer points than Chicago, by the way.
"We've had some funny games this year," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville told reporters following Saturday night’s loss. "This was one of them. It wasn't fun to watch, standing from behind the bench. As a teammate, as a player, as a coach, it's one of those games that it's as bad as you can be ... we have to be way better and bring our best because we haven't seen anywhere near our best."
Righting the ship might be easier to do when you are a team that has won three Stanley Cup championships in the last seven years. But going down 2-1 or 3-1 is a different situation for the Capitals, who despite constantly having their name etched on the Presidents’ Trophy have gone almost two decades without reaching the third round of the playoffs.
What happens if Frederik Andersen stands on his head again or if Ovechkin cannot punch through Toronto’s threadbare defence? What if Washington loses Game 3? How long before the team starts to second-guess what it’s doing?
When does doubt — real doubt — start to creep in?
“We have a lot of belief,” said Trotz, when asked about the Leafs’ growing belief. “There’s a reason we won a lot of games over the past few years. There’s a lot of belief in our room.”
TROTZ EXPECTING LOUD ACC
There might not be any tiny cowbells ringing when the Maple Leafs return home for Game 3 of their first-round series against the Capitals. But after going three years without a playoff game, Washington head coach Barry Trotz is expecting a “playoff atmosphere” at the Air Canada Centre.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic,” said Trotz, who added it is up to his team to take the fans out of the equation. “Toronto, Leafs Nation, will be cheering. It’ll be a great environment ... you’ll get chills down your spine when you’re on the bench for both teams. It’ll be an exciting environment and then as the game goes on the fans are no different probably than the players — they’re playing every shift with you. If (the Leafs are) playing well, they’re happy. If you’re not, they’re not.”
The Leafs went 21-13-7 at home this season, with one win and one loss against the Capitals at the ACC.