LAS VEGAS — The Washington Capitals are one victory away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, but you couldn’t tell it from Wednesday’s practice at T-Mobile Arena.
Lars Eller performed the customary hot lap, much to the delight of his hooting and hollering teammates.
The energy on the ice looked the same as any other practice during this run.
The vibe in the room afterward felt familiar.
In other words, it was the same old steady, loose Caps. And that, according to a handful of players and Coach Barry Trotz, is a good thing as they get ready for biggest game in franchise history.
“We don’t switch much. You’ve got a similar routine here.” — Tom Wilson on staying in the moment and not looking ahead. (BTW, that was Andre Burakovsky placing the ball of tape on Wilson’s shoulder mid-interview. Haha.) #ALLCAPS #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/pmY4ax63FA— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) June 6, 2018
“Once that puck drops, it’s just another hockey game,” Tom Wilson said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re executing the game plan and doing the things that have made us successful to this point.”
Trotz said his message to the dressing room ahead of Game 5 on Thursday night will be a simple one.
“It’s just one game,” he said. “You just focus on the next game. I can’t tell you want is going to happen tomorrow. But I can tell you that you’re going to need your best game.”
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) June 6, 2018
The Caps are exuding confidence right now. And why not? They’re finally doing what previous versions had failed to do: they’re playing their best hockey of the season at the most critical time of the year.
- They’ve scored 4, 3, 3 and 6 goals so far in this series. The last team to average 3-plus goals in every Final game was the 1982 Islanders. Those goals have also been supplied by 11 different players.
- Defensively, they’ve returned to the form they flashed at the end of the Tampa Bay series, which concluded with back-to-back shutouts. In fact, since allowing six goals in Game 1 (one was scored into an empty net), they’ve yielded a total of five goals in the last three contests.
- And, perhaps, most important, Braden Holtby is outdueling Marc-Andre Fleury, who entered the Final as the odds on favorite to claim the Conn Smythe as the NHL’s playoff MVP. Through four games, Holtby boasts a .919 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average, while Fleury is saddled with an .845 and a 4.08.
And, finally, the Capitals are confident because they are comfortable on the road. They’re 9-3 away from Capital One Arena this spring. They’re also 3-0 in clinching games, all of which have come on enemy ice.
To a man, the Caps are keenly aware of where they stand. They know the crowning achievement for a hockey player is now within arm’s reach.
But they also know it does them no good to look ahead.
Captain Alex Ovechkin joked that he’s been thinking about just about anything other than lifting the Stanley Cup over the past 24 hours to keep his mind from wandering too far ahead.
“For me personally, I don’t try [to] think about it too much, what’s going on,” Ovechkin cracked. “I’m trying to focus on different things, but it’s hard.”
What kinds of things, Alex?
“Cars, hotels,” he said with a big smile, “Vegas.”
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