Cap­i­tals aim to ex­or­cise demons

En­ter play­offs as big fa­vorites, but carry heavy ex­pec­ta­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

The Washington Cap­i­tals wore match­ing T-shirts af­ter prac­tice Wed­nes­day. “Next Level,” they said on the front, with green­ish fig­ures in Cap­i­tals jer­seys sur­round­ing the let­ters, which also ap­peared to ooze ghoul­ish sludge.

“I guess we’re zom­bies,” Jay Bea­gle said, giv­ing only vague in­sight into the mean­ing of the new at­tire. “It looks that way.”

Zom­bies. The kind that come back from the dead?

“I guess so,” Bea­gle said. “I don’t re­ally look too much into things. I put a T-shirt on and I go.”

The nat­u­ral as­sump­tion is that the shirts are a ref­er­ence to the Cap­i­tals’ play­off demons. Washington be­gins this year’s play­off push try­ing to re­vive the corpses they left on the ice against Pitts­burgh last April.

Com­pared with their first-round op­po­nent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, they are the su­pe­rior team in both tal­ent and ex­pe­ri­ence. They are the best team in hockey, but have noth­ing to show from past years when the same was true.

The Cap­i­tals car­ried sim­i­lar ex­pec­ta­tions into the post­sea­son last year and, though the end­ing was not what they’d hoped, coach Barry Trotz thinks it helped his team learn how to deal with pres­sure.

“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.”

Trotz’ coun­ter­part in Toronto, Mike Bab­cock, thinks the pres­sure on the Cap­i­tals could work in his team’s fa­vor. The way he sees it, if the Leafs get up a game or two, doubt will start sneak­ing in.

“Well that’s the whole key, as you know,” Bab­cock said Tues­day in Toronto. “If you let them get go­ing, then they’re go­ing and they’re loose and driv­ing, but that ‘pucker fac­tor’ is an un­be­liev­able thing. 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.”

“So 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.”

Bab­cock and Trotz know each other well, hav­ing coached against each other for years and to­gether for Team Canada in the World Cup. In re­sponse to his friend’s words, Trotz said Bab­cock might just be en­gag­ing in a bit of games­man­ship.

“Well we had pres­sure the last cou­ple years, and that’s been com­mon here,” Trotz said. “That’s, again, I think we’re way bet­ter with it. I lis­tened to Babs’ com­ments, he’s play­ing you guys with that, but I think we can un­der­stand that. 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.”

If the Cap­i­tals’ choice of at­tire Wed­nes­day is any­thing to read into, the team has a sense of hu­mor about its post­sea­son rep­u­ta­tion. Trotz’ be­lief that the team has learned to deal with pres­sure will seem proven right if the group makes a deep play­off push, while Bab­cock will ap­pear the sage if his team can knock the fa­vorites back on their heels. In ei­ther case, the easy nar­ra­tive will prob­a­bly fail to cap­ture the en­tire truth.

“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. Other than that, we don’t have any­thing other than the op­por­tu­nity,” Trotz said. “Now we’ve just go to go out there and play. Our group has ac­cepted that.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Washington Cap­i­tals coach Barry Trotz thinks last sea­son’s dis­ap­point­ing fin­ish in the play­offs helped his team learn how to deal with pres­sure.

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