Mike Babcock believes all the pressure is on the Caps. Barry Trotz doesn’t care what Babcock believes. Such is the war of words that is developing between the two coaches as their two teams prepare to meet in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Babcock has a daunting task ahead of him. With a team full of young stars, he must find a way to lead them to victory over the Washington Capitals, the top team in the NHL.
Before they even get on the ice, however, Babcock has to get his team to actually believe they can win.
There’s no questioning just how good the Caps are, but if the Leafs don’t bring any confidence with them to the series, they’ve already lost.
To that end, Babcock has an interesting take on how the pressure of the playoffs will benefit the Leafs.
“That ‘pucker factor’ is an unbelievable thing,” Babcock said to the media on Tuesday. “Until you’ve been the best seed, until you have your whole city expecting, you don’t know what’s that like and how good a defence that is for the underdog. It’s unbelievable.”
“I’ve been the underdog lots and won,” Babcock added. “I’ve been the Presidents’ Trophy winner (in 2006) and lost in the first round (to Edmonton). … My first year in Detroit, I’d never experienced anything like it and I couldn’t believe how we couldn’t skate or pass. So pressure’s a wonderful thing when you’re the underdog.”
So advantage Toronto? Trotz doesn’t think so.
Trotz responded to Babcock’s comments on Wednesday after practice and, spoiler alert, he disagrees.
“I listened to Babs' comments, he's playing you guys with that, but I think we can understand that,” Trotz said with a dismissive wave. “We expect ourselves to do well, that's the expectation that we put on ourselves. I don't think that's going to change. I think we're way more prepared for that, maybe than we were last year. I don't think that's going to be a big factor for us, we're going to leave our best game out there and that is key.”
There is something to be said for the pressure weighing on the Caps. They are the best team heading into the playoffs, they have never made it out of the second round in the Alex Ovechkin era, the clock is ticking for just how long Ovechkin can remain a superstar and this team is going to look very different next season due to several expiring contracts. This is Washington’s last best chance to win the Cup. If Toronto can steal a game or two from Verizon Center, that pressure will really begin to mount.
MORE CAPITALS: Carlson expected to return Thursday for Game 1
Trotz isn't buying it. In fact, he actually believes there’s less pressure on Washington this year than the year before given just how dominant they were in the regular season.
“There's a way different feel this year than last year, a way different feel,” Trotz said. “Last year there probably was a bit more pressure, and I don't think we were prepared, just because we had such a lead last year. I don't think we played as sharp as we were down the stretch.”
That’s not to say there’s no pressure, however, but Trotz isn’t concerned about that and certainly doesn’t see his team wilting in the first round because of it.
If you want to win in the NHL, pressure comes with the territory.
“We are trying to create the expectation to get to the next level and we haven't won a Cup, and that's something that this group has an opportunity to do,” Trotz said. “Other than that, we don't have anything other than the opportunity. Now we've just got to go out there and play."