LAS VEGAS — Growing up north of Seattle, Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie won the Stanley Cup a time or two playing roller hockey in his backyard.
With a quick move past his little brother and a slick dangle by his sister, Oshie buried the goal that won it all. Now 10 years into his NHL career, Oshie gets his first chance to win the real thing Thursday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“Whatever you dreamt of when you were growing up, this was our dream and we’re very close to it,” Oshie said. “But I think we’re mature enough to know that there’s still a lot of work ahead of us to get the job done here.”
Three straight wins over the Vegas Golden Knights put the Capitals in position to win the first Stanley Cup in the 43-year history of the franchise. Washington coach Barry Trotz saw little tension in his players as they prepared for a potential clinching game.
“There’s no difference,” Trotz said. “They were still joking around and cutting each other up and having fun. That’s what you should be doing this time of year.”
Simply playing this time of year represents a victory for a Capitals franchise haunted by playoff collapses during the 13-year run of captain Alex Ovechkin. Washington exorcised some demons from those failures this season by surviving seven-game series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning to reach the Final.
“I think they’ve taken the process that it’s fun,” Trotz said. “They enjoy the battle. The enjoy the process, everything about it. I think they have a good way of looking at things. I think their perspective on the whole playoffs is different than it has been in the past.”
More than their mindset changed. Ovechkin’s teammates are producing more in these playoffs than they have in past years: linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov leads all scorers with 31 points, while second-liners Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom have combined for 43 points. Backstrom is in his 11th season with the Capitals.
Trotz brushed aside any concern that the arrival of the Stanley Cup inside T-Mobile Arena will affect his team.
“Just like a lot of you people in here and lot of the players, they’ve played for the Cup many times already, thousands of times as kids, street hockey, outdoor rinks, all that,” Trotz said. “In the hallways when you’re on those hockey trips — they’ve played for the Cup already a number of times. It’s just a bigger stage.”
Yet the actual Cup awaits now. Fifteen years into his career as an NHL head coach, Trotz admitted that his mind wandered to thoughts of winning it.
“You’re going to have a moment or two,” Trotz said. “There’s no question about it. I’m not gonna lie to you — I have had that moment. But I think I’m able to pull that in. I had to iron a shirt, stuff like that. Just did my work.”
After a wild Game 1 won by the Golden Knights, Trotz’s team went back to work with a physical style that appears to have flustered Vegas in the past three games. The neutral-zone work of the Capitals creates opportunities for their formidable offense.
“If we want to play our game, it’s not easy to play against us,” Kuznetsov said.
The Capitals are scoring four goals per game in the Final, solving Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury better than any other team in the playoffs. Fleury allowed 27 goals through 15 games in the first three rounds before giving up 16 in four games to Washington.
“I think we just stick with what we’ve been doing, what’s been giving us success,” Oshie said. “I personally don’t want to go back to Washington and to use any wiggle room we have.”