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Players want Hunter back, but will he return?

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Players want Hunter back, but will he return?

Since he arrived in Washington as Bruce Boudreaus replacement, it has been the elephant in the room no one has wanted to discuss.

Will Dale Hunter return as head coach of the Capitals next season?

Given the success of his junior team, the London Knights, does he want to?

Do the players, specifically Alex Ovechkin, want him back?

And what about team management? Does general manager George McPhee want to extend what is believed to be a one-year deal for the 51-year-old coach? If so, at what cost?

All of those questions will be addressed after what has already been a remarkable season for the Capitals. But as they await Saturday nights decisive Game 7 against the Rangers in New York one question has been answered quite resoundingly.

The players want Hunter back next season.
Why wouldnt I? center Brooks Laich said. Absolutely. Hes been great. I don't have anything to do with that. I'm not concerned about that right now. I just want to keep winning.
With each playoff victory, Hunters support has gained traction in the Capitals locker room.
It would be very, very tough, Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said when asked what would happen if Hunter decided to return to London, Ontario, where he and his brother own and operate the Knights.

The way were playing hockey right now is a good way to play hockey and you dont really want to mess with it. I would say, yes, we need him to come back if you want us to continue to play this style of hockey.

Hunter and the Capitals are one win away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since Hunter led them to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals as a player. The reason, the players say, is the coach who for years was resistant to McPhees overtures to coach the Capitals.

Youve got to give Dale credit, Capitals defenseman Mike Green said. He hasnt strayed away from his game plan from Day One. He obviously knows what it takes to play in the playoffs. He played for a long time. I like our game, I like our system and guys have played it well.

That is not to say the Capitals did not had their share of growing pains. Early in Hunters tenure there was a resistance to his defense-first, low-risk approach to the game and Laich and Alzner admitted there were locker room shouting matches among the players.

Our struggles may have made him look not as good as we know he is, Alzner said. Its extremely tough to change a system in the middle of the year. Last year it looked so easy with Bruce Boudreau because it was minor tweaks we did. This is a completely different thing and it was tough, but everyones seeing the product of it now.

The biggest challenge for Hunter might have been getting Ovechkin and Alex Semin to buy into a system in which their offensive creativity is stifled.

I think we understand now that preventing a chance against is more important than trying to create a chance for, Laich said. Its a game of mistakes and if we can be solid defensively and not give them anything, sooner or later the other team might break down and give us a chance and then we have opportunistic scorers. Thats a different mentality than we had here before.

I just think Hunter has done a great job finding the balance and still allowing our skill players to be creative but within the confines of the system.
Laich pointed to Ovechkin scoring a power-play goal and blocking three shots in Wednesday nights 2-1 victory in Game 6. He noted Semins willingness to chip a puck off the boards and into the offensive zone instead of making a high-risk pass through the middle.

The whole bench is just saying, Good play, good play, Laich said, because its something that were not used to seeing.

Hunter said his coaching style is not much different with the Capitals than it was with the Knights when he coached in London for 10 years. He said the players willingness to change old habits for the sake of winning is what has made the Capitals a threat in the playoffs.

When you come here, youre coaching these guys, trying to get them to play as one, Hunter said. The guys come in, they want to win. Its easy to coach a team when they want to win and they put team ahead of the personal goals.

Alzner said Hunter drives home his points with the greatest motivational tool a coach has at his disposal playing time.

Maybe its harder to do it than it is to say it, but if a guys not playing well, you just dont play him, Alzner said. Thats just the way it works. All the players know. We dont want to see a guy go out there whos not working or a guy who is working not get rewarded.

And then there is Hunters surprisingly calm demeanor behind the bench. For a guy who played the game with such emotion, piling up more than 3,500 in penalty minutes, Hunter has been remarkably serene in the most emotional of circumstances.

Laich said that is something he certainly didnt expect when he heard Hunter was replacing Boudreau.
Id never met him, but heard about him and knew the type of player he was, Laich said. When I found out it was Dale Hunter I kind of took a breath and thought, This is going to be real serious.
I cant speak enough, hes been great. Its almost like having another veteran in the locker room is what it feels like. You can draw on his experience, hes willing to open up and share it. Hes been through these battles.
And now another awaits. Game 7 in Madison Square Garden. The only NHL game being played. A berth in the conference finals hanging in the balance.
And yet another question.
Could this be Hunters final game behind the Capitals bench? Or is this just the beginning of a long coaching run by a Capitals legend?
No one knows, Alzner said. You never know with the guy. He doesnt show much emotion at all. Well all find out together in the summer.

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Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

These are not the same old Caps.

Heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, there was a lot of handwringing around Washington and with good reason. The Capitals were facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Of course the fans were on edge; no one wanted this run to end.

But even though the Caps are competing for the conference crown and have gotten past their archrivals to get here, the refrains leading into Game 6 were the same ones we’ve heard from past years.

 “They don’t want it enough.”

“There’s no heart.”

“Totally outcoached.”

“Chokers.”

And perhaps most damning, “Same old Caps.”

Stop it already.

Seriously, how can anyone have watched this postseason and walked away thinking this is the same Caps team?

Does no one remember the start of the season? Some people didn’t even think they would make the playoffs. Others were advocating the team trade Alex Ovechkin and start over. Yet here they are.

Finally, finally they got past the second round hump. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins—ending their two-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions—and handed Mike Sullivan his first ever series loss as the Penguins head coach.

And no, Mike Wilbon, just because they made it past the second round doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose in the Conference Finals. But considering how they got there, they showed they have at the very least changed the narrative surrounding the Capitals.

Washington lost the first two games of its series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and went on to win four straight to advance. In the second round, they faced the two-time defending champions, a team they had beaten only once in the playoffs in franchise history and a team that had not lost a playoff series since 2015.

And they won.

And yet, people are acting like nothing changed with the Caps. Why? Because they lost three in a row to Tampa Bay?

OK, you've got a point. What kind of a team loses three straight in the playoffs? Hard-nosed teams with tough coaches that play the right way like Columbus or Anaheim wouldn’t let that happen to them. Oh, actually Columbus lost four in a row to the Caps and the Ducks got swept in the first round. Never mind.

Well, certainly not a team with a championship history like the Los Angeles Kings. Oh wait, never mind, the got swept by Vegas. Bad example.

Well, surely an original six team with a championship pedigree like the Boston Bruins would never let that happen. Oh yeah, they lost four straight to the same Tampa Bay team.

OK, OK, but were any of those teams really contenders this year? I mean, none of those teams were as good as Winnipeg and they won’t let themselves lose three in a row in the playoffs.

That’s because they lost four straight to Vegas in the conference final.

You see where this is going, right?

It just boggles the mind that anyone could see the game plan Barry Trotz put together in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, without three top-six forwards including Nicklas Backstrom, and win in overtime and still complain that he is always outcoached in the playoffs. He certainly wasn’t outcoached in that game or that series.

It’s baffling that anyone can see how Washington rallied past Columbus after losing Game 1 and Game 2, recovered from a disastrous Game 1 to Pittsburgh and won the first two games in Tampa Bay against a favored Lightning team and complain that this team “doesn’t want it enough.”

Chokers don’t advance to the third round. Chokers don’t beat the two-time defending champions when no one else could. Chokers don’t force seven games against a Tampa Bay team that finished off both of their prior series in just five games.

Just stop. Find a new storyline to push because this one is lazy and played out. It’s been done.

Don’t get me wrong, losing four in a row after winning Game 1 and Game 2 on the road would have really stung. With the history this team has, the fact that they finally got past Pittsburgh gave this team a feel of destiny. If they go on to lose Game 7 and end their run without a Stanley Cup or even a conference crown to show for it, that would be disappointing. No question about it.

But to say these are the “same old Caps” if they lose to Tampa Bay? That’s ridiculous. They have already put those demons to rest. Three straight losses to the Lightning don’t change that and neither will whatever happens in Game 7.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, whether the Caps win or lose, no one should come out and say these are the same old Caps. They have already proven that’s not the case.

Those Caps are gone. Now let’s see how far these Caps can go.

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The Lighting are doubling down on stupid protocol to keep Capitals fans out of Amalie Arena for Game 7

The Lighting are doubling down on stupid protocol to keep Capitals fans out of Amalie Arena for Game 7

Remember when the folks at Amalie Arena went to great lengths to try and "block the red" during the Eastern Conference Final against the Capitals?

Well, the Lightning are doing that again for Game 7. Not that anything else would've been expected though.

Before the series, the Lightning used this tactic to try and keep as many Capitals fans out as possible, and they also enforced a dress code.

Not only could you not buy tickets through the team or its official partner, Ticketmaster, without a Florida Zip code, but the Lightning also added a clause to their ticket policy that wouldn't allow Capitals fans who were able to get tickets to wear red or anything with the team's logo if their seats are in the Lightning's Lexus Lounge.

This includes seats against the glass, or in the Chase Club luxury suites.

Neutral colors were the only thing allowed.

There are certainly ways around the ticket policy part. Whether you go through a different website for tickets like Stubhub, or as many have been suggesting on Twitter, using a prepaid gift card.

At this point though, with Game 7 closing in, you hopefully have a plan in place already if you're going to the game in Tampa.

This also isn't uncommon for teams to do anyway, with the Capitals having a similar policy.

Of course, we totally support the Caps doing this. When it's another team doing it to Caps fans though, that's a different story. 

The Capitals won the first two games of the series in Tampa, now it just takes one more win to get them to the Stanley Cup Final, where the expansion Vegas Golden Nights await

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