Barry Trotz has not walked in your shoes.
He has not seen his team win the Presidents’ Trophy and then had his heart torn out from his chest by Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens.
He has not seen his team grab two-game leads in a playoff series four times in the past seven years, only to see them trickle through their gloved fingers.
He has not repeatedly rocked the red and unleashed the fury, only to witness Alex Ovechkin and his teammates sitting exhausted on the Capitals bench, another conference final beyond his reach.
"In this market, it seems like everybody brings up the past and it's funny because the past a lot of times, it's not relevant," Trotz told reporters in a conference call on Sunday, with his team one win away from forcing a Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins or one loss away from ending a promising season in bitter disappointment.
"It's just a story for (the media), but it's really not relevant to the group, (or) for me, because every group changes from year to year."
True enough. The Capitals signed Stanley Cup champions Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Brooks Orpik to help change the course of their checkered playoff past. And throughout this season the handful of players who have been through the heartaches of the past eight springs – from the Game 7 loss to the Flyers in 2008 to the Game 7 loss to the Rangers last spring – have told us, and themselves, that this team is different.
Trotz said his players proved that on Saturday night by staving off elimination with a complete 3-1 victory in Game 5 at Verizon Center.
“You saw they have a lot of trust in their game,” he said. “They have a lot of determination. I think they have a lot of resiliency.
“Our leadership, the stuff coaches and players will not talk about to the fans and media, is the bond in the room that is very strong. Everything I knew about this team I thought it played out (Saturday night). We didn’t panic. We had good determination. We had a good game plan, we stuck to the game plan and I thought we managed the game pretty well, especially after two periods.
“I thought we really did a good job of managing the puck. The Penguins had probably the least number of scoring chances (nine shots) in the third period. They had a good push but I thought we had a good response to the type of push they had.”
Indeed, the Capitals played one of their strongest defensive games of the series in Game 5. But if they hope to prove they truly are different than their playoff predecessors, they’ll need to be even better in Game 6 in front of what promises to be a very loud and very demanding crowd at Consol Energy Center.
“We can’t change the past,” Trotz said. “All we can change is what we’re going to do the next game and I think that’s a real good mindset for a hockey team to have.”
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