Well, kind of.
ARLINGTON – Things have not gone well for the Capitals the last few days. After taking a 2-0 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington saw that lead evaporate with two losses in Raleigh as they were outscored 7-1 and lost T.J. Oshie to injury. But even as the series momentum has taken a serious shift in Carolina’s favor, the mood in Washington remains calm.
“You know it’s playoffs,” Jakub Vrana said. “You can’t ever get too low or too high. We’re going to try to manage as best we can in the situation that we are right now.”
The underlying calm and confidence the Caps feel comes from past experience. Having always been the team that came up short in the playoffs, now Washington is the defending Stanley Cup champion, and it is not as if their path to the Cup was without its challenges.
“We understand what we went through last year,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “This is part of the experience. We went through some difficult times last year whether it was injuries or suspensions or being down in series, whether it was 0-2 or 3-2 in different series and battling through some tough times. We managed as a group to come through it.”
The Caps went down 0-2 in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets before rattling off four straight wins to advance. They lost three straight games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final and faced elimination in both Game 6 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. They responded with two perfect games, shutting out the Lightning in both. Washington lost Game 1 in three out of four playoff series in 2018 and trailed at some point in all four.
And yet, they still came out on top in the end.
Amid those struggles were a number of key losses on the roster. In the decisive Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovksy and Tom Wilson. Backstrom and Burakovsky were out injured while Wilson was suspended. The team will need to lean on that experience now with Oshie out indefinitely.
“Obviously, that’s something that you never want to have is one of your top players going down,” Chandler Stephenson said, “But it shows that last year we had guys coming in and pulling their weight and doing a little more and it helped us a lot. It gave us a little extra spark and it’s just more opportunity for everyone and I think we’re ready for it. It’s obviously motivation in itself to do it for Osh now, too.”
This time, the team will be looking for a spark from Devante Smith-Pelly, a playoff hero from 2018 who was recalled from the Hershey Bears on Friday in response to Oshie’s injury.
“Yeah, it’s tough to not have Osh right now,” Vrana said. “He’s been a big part of this team but it is what it is and we’re going to try to fill the spot as best we can.”
Even Nic Dowd, in his first season with Washington, can feel the confidence in the room.
“That is why they make it best-of-seven,” Dowd said. “This is my first time doing this, but I've played in a lot of playoff hockey before this, American League, college, stuff like that. I think the confidence hasn't changed. I think we still are a calm team. Our guys are going to be ready. Like I said, it is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Every team that is left is a good team and every team wants to win."
While there are no such things as moral victories in professional sports, that does not mean good things cannot come from losses. The Caps have not played their best hockey in any of the four games in the series. Perhaps two losses in Carolina will provide the wake-up call Washington needs.
“Maybe that spurs us on to a different level of play because we need a different level of play from everybody,” Reirden said. “They pushed back and now it's our turn to return the favor when they come into our building. We worked hard and played hard all year to have this opportunity to have home ice in this round. Now it's our chance to see it through. It's something that we're going to need everybody and everybody's top game. Credit to them that they've played well, but I also know that there's another level our team can get to.”
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Oshie Out, DSP In: What that means for the Caps' offense
- Heart and Soul: Caps begin to process Oshie injury after Game 4 loss
- He Barley Hit Him: Brind'Amour finds a way to downplay T.J. Oshie injury
The Washington Nationals fell to the Miami Marlins 3-2 Friday night. Here's the latest Nationals and Marlins news:
Anibal Sanchez took the loss against the Marlins Friday, allowing three over 5 1/3 innings. Sanchez is now 0-2 on the season and holds a 4.91 ERA.
Second baseman Brian Dozier went 1-for-4 Friday night with a solo home run, his second long ball of the seaon. Meanwhile, Anthony Rendon extended his hit streak to 17 games with a sixth inning double. Rendon's streak is now the longest in the majors this season.
Washington placed reliever Austen Williams on the 10-day injured list with a sprained AC joint. The Nationals called up RHP Austin Adams from Triple-A Fresno to take Williams' place in the bullpen.
Starting pitcher Caleb Smith kept the Nats' bats mostly quiet to earn his second win of the season, pithching six innings of one-run ball for the Marlins. Smith struck out eight and walked none, the only run he allowed coming on a Juan Soto RBI single in the first inning.
Closer Sergio Romo needed just 10 pitches to sit the Nats down in order in the ninth and record his second save of 2019.
Left fielder Curtis Granderson went 0-4 with three strikeouts Friday night, but it was Granderson who was hit by a Matt Grace pitch in the sixth inning to force home a run and give Miami a 3-1 lead. That run proved to be the difference, as Washington only scored once more on Dozier's solo blast in the seventh.
RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, 10-Day IL
SS Trea Turner: Finger, 10-Day IL
RP Koda Glover: Elbow, 10-Day IL
RP Justin Miller: Back, 10-Day IL
Saturday, 4/20: Nationals @ Marlins, 6:10 p.m., Marlins Park
Sunday, 4/21: Nationals @ Marlins, 1:10 p.m., Marlins Park
Monday, 4/22: Nationals @ Rockies, 8:40 p.m., Coors Field
MORE NATIONALS NEWS:
- Craig Kimbrel: Free agent closer could help any NL East contender
- Optimism High: Rizzo is hopeful Rendon deal gets done
- Dan Jennings: Veteran bullpen arm signed to minor league deal