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Ward, Brouwer share thoughts on Caps' early exit

Ward, Brouwer share thoughts on Caps' early exit

Earlier this week, Capitals left wing Jason Chimera was sked which former teammate he would root for in the Western Conference Finals, where Joel Ward and the San Jose Sharks and Troy Brouwer and the St. Louis Blues are tied at 1-1 entering tonight’s Game 3 in San Jose.

“Nobody,” Chimera said with a grin. “I’ll root for Wardo because Brouws already won it, so I’ll cheer for Wardo. It’s the easy answer, yeah.”

Brouwer, 30, won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and was traded to the Capitals a year later for a first-round draft pick (26th overall) that the Hawks used to select Phillip Danault.

Joel Ward arrived in Washington the same summer, signing a four-year, $12 million contract with the Caps.

But in four seasons together, Brouwer and Ward could not get the Caps where they find themselves now – in the conference finals.

Brouwer, who went to St. Louis in the trade that brought T.J. Oshie to the Caps, and Ward, who signed a three-year, $9.75 million deal with the Sharks, kept close tabs on the Caps throughout this season and were disappointed to see them bow to the Penguins in the second round.

“The Caps ran into a really good team in Pittsburgh," Brouwer told ESPN. "There's no bad teams left. Talking to a couple of guys in the (Capitals) organization, they hadn't played too many meaningful games down the stretch and maybe that was something that hurt them. While for both us and (the Sharks), we've been fighting hard right to the end, so we were in playoff mode right when the playoffs started and even before the playoffs started."


Ward probably would have remained in Washington if he had agreed to a two-year deal.

"I've got good friends over there -- you know I was pulling for them, for sure,” Ward told ESPN. “There are guys there that were good teammates on the ice but also great guys off of it. It's unfortunate for them to get bounced. It's just the learning curve again. It's a hard, hard league. A lot of parity. We're in a fortunate position here now and trying to capitalize on it."

Brouwer, who will become a free agent on July 1, said he has no ill will toward the Caps.

"I was pretty upset when I got traded just because I had such great friends -- not just on the team, but in the neighborhood,” he said. “Our community was great. My family loved being in Washington, we were comfortable there. But I understand they made a hockey trade. They're going to happen. I didn't see it coming at the time, but looking back, they were looking for a player to play with (Alex) Ovechkin and (Nicklas) Backstrom, a different kind of player, and I think Osh did an unbelievable job for that team this year. But it's been a good move for me, coming to a team that plays the style of play that I love playing. So I was able to fit in here and find a good spot, a good role early on."

Oshie (26 goals, 25 assists) outscored Brouwer (18 goals, 21 assists) in the regular season. In the playoffs Oshie notched six goals and four assists in 12 games for the Caps, while Brouwer has five goals and five assists in 16 games for the Blues.

Ward followed up a 21-goal, 22-assist regular season with two goals and five assists in his first 14 playoff games with the Sharks. He said Brouwer sent him a good luck note before the Blues and Sharks met, but he expects no special treatment from him when they line up against each other as the series unfolds.

“I had a chance to play with him four years straight and consider him a good buddy. During the regular season, if we're playing each other, we'll go for dinner or whatnot. But now, it's a little different. We're all here to compete, we're all here for the same reason.

"Obviously, he's not going to let up on me as much as I asked him to. But that's just the way it goes."


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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."


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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.