The Capitals are doing everything they can to convince themselves Thursday night’s Game 5 against the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena is just another game.
They were well aware after Wednesday’s practice that it absolutely is not.
“You try and keep your routine normal as much as possible,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik, the only Washington player to have played in a Stanley Cup Final before this season. “But I think it’s only natural that you try to picture what might happen or imagine what might happen. This time of the year, and even regular season, a lot of guys do visualization things in a positive way, and I think it’s actually a healthy thing.”
Washington needs one more victory over the next three games to finally hoist the Cup after years of playoff futility following regular-season success.
The Capitals have failed to advance past the second round since losing their only previous Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998. Washington has blown two 3-1 postseason series leads during that span, part of a whopping five times it has happened in franchise history.
But this year’s team believes it is different, and the results have proven the Capitals right so far. Washington is 3-0 this postseason with a chance to close out an opponent — and all three of those victories came on the road.
“It just seems different this year,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Everyone’s at a different place mentally and physically than we’ve been at in the past.
“Maybe because we’ve talked about it so much, guys are sick of hearing about it from the meetings. Sick of not getting it done. They all kind of blend together, but I think we have come out with great efforts every closeout game, and we’re gonna need a big one. This is a good team at home. It’s going to take a really good effort to get it done.”
They are trying to keep things as normal as possible. Coach Barry Trotz said he was going to watch the NBA Finals on Wednesday night to get his mind off things.
Alex Ovechkin said the plan was to try to “chill.”
“To be honest, I think most of us have never been in this position,” Ovechkin said. “For me personally, I don’t try to think too much about what’s going on and just try focusing on different things. But it’s hard.”
“Cars. Hotels. Whatever. You know, Vegas.”
The methods seem to have worked away from the rink. On the ice, the Capitals’ ability to clog the neutral zone has frustrated the Knights’ playmakers for much of the series.
“I feel like this year we’ve been attacking these games instead of sitting back and waiting for our opportunity,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We have been going out there being aggressive. It’s not going to change now. We’re going to try to play the same game, be aggressive and make sure we stay physical. That’s our game plan.
“Obviously, you have (being one win away) in the back of your head, but at the same time I think it’s important to try to have the mindset going in that it’s a regular game and make sure you try to block out everything outside this locker room.”
It’s much easier said than done.
“It’s not a normal game,” Backstrom said with a laugh. “But at least I’m trying to make it one.”