The playoffs are an incredibly emotional time for anyone and everyone involved. Fans go to great lenths to show their support on a daily basis. The players lay it all on the line, knowing that this is their chance. Their passion and determination about the game shine through every second they’re on the ice.
The problem with all that emotion is that it can own the players. If they begin acting on pure emotion, they will eventually take costly penalties and do things detrimental to the team. Players like Sean Avery live off of the players who can’t keep their emotions in check, and the Capitals’ refusal to engage him last night is yet another sign that this year is business for them.
In an attempt to shake up his team, John Tortorella gave Sean Avery his first sweater of the post season. He did what he always does, agitated and tried to goad the Caps into retaliation penalties. This is nothing new. What was a great sign of determination, focus, and maturity was that the Caps didn’t get involved. Even the rookies stayed out of the shenanigans and let the game speak for itself.
That is the very attitude the Capitals have adopted since that 7-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Rangers back in December. That was a turning point for the team, as that was when they really implemented a form of trap neutral zone defense. They were used to playing on their highs and lows, but the tweaked system allowed them to take a step back and just work it. And it worked.
The Capitals have shown great focus in the first two games of this series. In Game 1, they went through two scoreless periods before the Rangers took the lead early in the third. While it would have been easy for the Caps to pack it in and hope for an easy time against a hot Henrik Lundqvist in Game 2, they battled harder and became more determined. The result was that they tied up the game with around five minutes to go.
There mentality was tested again throughout overtime, where they dominated the Rangers. Chance after chance was stifled by Lundqvist, and that again would have been an easy time to get down on themselves and think “We just aren’t going to beat him tonight.” But they kept pushing and won the game with less that two minutes left in OT.
In Last night’s game, the Caps had a good push in the second period that resulted in two goals. Those goals were all they needed as they then committed to defense and shut out the Rangers. Their approach was very mechanical and structured, and when that structure faltered Michal Neuvirth was there to make the save.
The playoffs are a business. It can be tough to set emotions aside as dream come so close to being realized, but the times that win are the teams that just get it done. No flash, just substance. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it takes patience. Sometimes it’s excruciating. But in the end, the more methodical the team, the better chance they have of capturing hockey’s Holy Grail.