Caps learn playoff lesson in November

Caps learn playoff lesson in November
November 8, 2013, 3:00 pm
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Caps stay patient, rally to beat Wild

If the Capitals hope to take that painfully elusive step and make their longest playoff run in 16 years, they’ll need to keep winning games like the one Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild.

Playing against one of the NHL’s stingiest defensive teams, the Caps won the old-fashioned way -- with patience, determination and grit.

“It was kind of a greasy one,” Caps left wing Jason Chimera said.

Frustrated by the Wild’s collapsing defense, the Caps got an ugly goal from Marcus Johansson that deflected off defenseman Nate Prosser, valiantly killed off a huge penalty that carried from regulation into overtime, and won on Nicklas Backstrom’s only goal of the shootout.

Now, granted, there are no shootouts in the playoffs, but the Caps proved they could play with enough patience to win a dirty game, and that’s a step in the right direction.

On Friday, Caps coach Adam Oates said he thought his players “lost their focus” after Alex Ovechkin gave them an early 2-1 lead with a power-play goal, but they reined it in and were willing to play chip and chase hockey against a team willing to play counter-punch hockey.

“The good news is we scored a big goal late and we scored it the right way,” Oates said. “There’s a team giving you nothing and that’s the way they play. They keep the shots down. That’s the way they want to win games and there’s at least 10 teams in the league that play like that. Our focus has to be that we’re willing to win 1-0.”

Oates’ point is well taken. If even half of those 10 teams grind their way into the playoffs, the likelihood that the Caps would need to beat one of them to advance is pretty high.

On Tuesday night, the Capitals faced and Islanders team that loves to skate and beat them at their own game, rolling to a 6-2 win. On Thursday night they played in a completely different game and learned to adapt.

“It is a frustrating brand of hockey,” Oates said. “We work on our neutral zone every single day. We played the Islanders [Tuesday night] and they’re a great skating team and we didn’t let them skate. That’s the state of the league. It used to be the trap, but teams are so good defensively that you have to put up with that frustration.”

As an example to his players on Friday, Oates used a clip of Backstrom gaining the blue line and chipping the puck past the Wild’s five-man defensive front, saying it was an example of taking what an opponent gives you.

“He’s a guy who loves to carry the puck,” Oates said. “But twice in the game he chipped it in from 20 feet. There’s a guy who wants the puck more than anybody and he did it. We have to take a page from that because, unfortunately, that’s what hockey is. Not every team, but some nights you’re not going to get an easy goal.”
Especially some nights in April, May and June.