In all of the peaks and valleys of the Capitals’ loss Sunday to the Bruins, there’s one moment that will hopefully take Capitals fans a long time to forget: the 4-on-3 disadvantage that faced their team from the end of the second period and into the beginning of the third.
Imagine the mental strain it takes to make it through approximately 17 minutes knowing you have the remainder of a 4-on-3 to kill off in what’s a do-or-die game for your opponent. That opponent also happens to have the athlete with the hardest slapshot in the NHL playing on their man advantage. The score is tied, so there is no room for error. You’ve been one of the team leaders in penalty kill minutes in the postseason, so you know your number is likely to be called.
That was the world of penalty killers Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner and Jay Beagle Sunday after Matt Hendricks took a tripping penalty with less than a minute left in the second period and joined teammate Troy Brouwer in the penalty box.
No wonder Alzner–who had the most shorthanded time on ice for the Caps in the regular season–felt jittery as he waited between periods.
“I was pretty nervous, to be honest,” he told reporters afterwards. “It was fresh ice–guys can move the puck really well, shoot the puck well. … We were getting nervous about it, but we’ve got some good killers.”
To top off the mental strain, Alzner was dealing with a twinge of guilt.
“I gave Hendy a bad pass, and that kind of caused the whole play for the penalty,” he volunteered post-game.
Redemption came quickly. The trio, backstopped by the 22-year-old Braden Holtby, successfully killed of the Bruins’ man advantage. Of course, it came with a price: the official play-by-play has Brooks Laich blocking a pair of shots, including a slapshot courtesy of the one guy you want to avoid, Zdeno Chara.
Who willingly steps in front of a projected missile of rubber coming at you from the strength of a guy whose slapshot can hit 108 miles per hour? Guys like Laich, Alzner, Beagle–who have fought so hard to make it to the NHL that they take nothing for granted. There’s no offseason for guys like this. Their summers are spent building their bodies to be even better the next season. It’s about giving themselves an edge to ensure this precious opportunity to play in the NHL doesn’t go to waste.
That’s what it means in the summer. In playoff hockey come April, it means throwing that body in the way of any puck which threatens your team’s crease.
“It’s the character of the guys that sacrifice their bodies,” their coach, Dale Hunter, said after the game.
It was a sacrifice definitely felt on their bodies after the game, and without the consolation of a win. But it was a moment in the postseason which should bring pride to the Caps fans who kept Verizon Center throbbing with life for Game 6.
It was true grit.