The atmosphere is one of importance. The crowd noise reverberates through your body like the music at a rock concert. You can tell the players feel it—they’ll strain a little bit harder, focus a little more intently.
It’s playoff hockey.
The second period of Thursday’s game at the Verizon Center was one that dreams are made of–or nightmares. Going into the period, the New York Rangers were up 1-0 on the Capitals thanks to a Carl Hagelin shot that redirected off John Erskine and past Braden Holtby.
But that was about to change.
The period was littered with penalties—the two teams combined for seven total on those 20 minutes alone. And on the Rangers’ fourth penalty of the game, the Capitals’ power play finally broke through and evened the score on an Alex Ovechkin rebound shot.
The Capitals would score two more goals—Marcus Johansson beating Lundqvist again, and Jason Chimera with a crazy redirect—but the period was far from a leisurely skate. At one point, the Capitals’s power play looked so awful that one would be forgiven thinking it was the Mites on Ice. At another point, the Capitals’ John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom had to fend off a 5-on-3 disadvantage when Eric Fehr ended up in the box for a short period of time alongside Martin Erat.
But the Capitals penalty kill remained perfect all night, and the team managed to stay out of the box in the third.
The vital stat, however, is that the Capitals held onto their two-goal lead—something the guys indicate they’ve learned the hard way.
“Luckily, throughout the season, we’ve had two-goal leads like that, and that’s what you’ve got to do—you’ve got to learn from them,” Steve Oleksy said postgame. “I think everybody’s played long enough where unfortunately you blow a 2-goal lead, sometimes, but you learn a lot throughout the season, and that’s when you really know what to expect in the playoffs.”
“You get excited, but you look at the clock, and there’s still 25, 30 minutes left in the game, and you can’t give up. We did that a few times this season … and lost 2 or 3-goal leads,” Troy Brouwer said. “We learned our lesson enough, and we’ve got to take that experience and use it in the playoffs.”
The Capitals had a solid game up and down the roster. The first and third lines scored, as well as the power play unit. Individuals had moments of brilliance, such as when John Erskine had an excellent one-on-one battle against Derek Stepan to break up a play in the Capitals’ zone. Braden Holtby picked up right where he left off last postseason.
And it’s only just the beginning.