Facing a playoff elimination game at Madison Square Garden and a declaration by superstar Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz did what coaches are supposed to do: Support their captain.
In what sure sounded like a guarantee of a Game 7 victory against the Rangers, Ovechkin told reporters matter-of-factly following a 4-3 loss on Sunday: "We're going to come back and win the series . . . We're going to play our game and we're going to come back and we're going to play Montreal or Tampa [in the Eastern Conference Finals]."
"I love that a player has got the wherewithal to say, 'Hey, we're going to go there and we're going to go after them and we're going to leave it out there,' " said Trotz, who has watched the Rangers battle back from a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals. "Anybody who doesn't have respect for that I think is fooling themselves. Not one player that I know is going to say we're going there to lose. I have a lot of respect for all the players who have said, 'Hey, we're going to Game 7 to win the hockey game' because that's the mindset you need to have. If you don't have that, you might as well pack your bags."
Monday, an off-day for both teams, Trotz, in his first year with the Capitals after 15 seasons in Nashville, added: "I don't know if we needed to hear it, but here's your captain, who says, 'Hey, we're going there and let's go there and do it.' I'd rather have that than no one say anything and cower and put their eyes down and not look you in the face, or cower from anything that might be considered bold or controversial."
Ovechkin may also have provided bulletin-board material when he intimated that the Rangers were soft. "We have to play that way," he said, boasting of the physical style the Caps used to rally from a 4-1 hole in Game 6. "You can see they don't want to play that game. We knew that. As soon as we put the puck deep and hit their 'D,' they fade because we're big and strong. You see how we score goals. We put bodies in front of [Henrik] Lundqvist and it goes in."
The statements are nothing new for the Russian winger, who led the league with 53 goals this season and scored in Games 1 and 2 against the Blueshirts. "Every year he says stuff that is bold," Trotz said, "and he backs it up, usually." Actually, Ovechkin has just two goals in eight Game 7s and the Capitals' record is 3-5. And the Rangers beat the Capitals in Game 7s in 2012 and 2013.
Asked about Ovechkin's legacy, win or lose, Trotz evoked Babe Ruth's called shot and Mark Messier's guarantee before Game 6 of the 1994 conference finals against the Devils, which he followed up with a hat trick. "That's what leaders do. And they got it done. Mark's such a great leader. He's proven that for decades with the Oilers and the Rangers. He called the shot and he backed it up. It's famous now. Who knows?"
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault stayed above the fray, saying he hadn't heard Ovechkin's comments. "Use logic," Vigneault said. "Is it logical to assume that players from both teams are going to want to win Game 7? Is it logical to assume that we're going to do everything that we can to prepare ourselves to go out on the ice and execute? We were a little less than two minutes away from our season being over [in Game 5]. We crawled our way back in. We found a way to win Game 6. We're going to try to find a way to win Game 7."