ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Barry Trotz is wondering aloud if Washington Capitals have been the victim of some bad bounces against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“They’ve got some strange goals, and that sometimes can play in your mind a little bit and we fought through that,” Trotz said Thursday. “We’re getting really mentally tough in this series because we’re working, and you create your own luck.”
With the series tied 2-2 going into Game 5 in Washington on Friday, the Capitals are facing a bigger test than anyone ever imagined. Morgan Rielly said the Maple Leafs have earned the right to feel confident, and players don’t believe they’re all even in this series because of luck.
Quite the opposite. Echoing their coach, who noted they weren’t at their best and still were within a goal in the Game 4 loss , defenseman Connor Carrick called Game 4 an “opportunity missed.”
“We didn’t play anywhere close to what we’re capable of,” goaltender Frederik Andersen said.
Had the Maple Leafs erased a 4-1 deficit to take command of the series, the pressure would have been squarely on the Presidents’ Trophy winners with the checkered playoff past.
Already the Capitals were looking tight and the expectation is still on them to win and advance.
“I think we got our heads on straight right now on how we want to play, and unfortunately it’s taken us a couple games to get there,” right winger T.J. Oshie said after the game. “So we want to improve on (Game 4) and get even better, but I think (Wednesday night) was a right step breathing-wise.
Breathing is essential for a team that hasn’t made it past the second round in the past decade with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and is facing major roster changes this summer no matter the result. This is Ovechkin’s best chance at the Stanley Cup, and everyone knows it.
“Yeah, I’m sure for him it’s hard not to think about that type of thing,” Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. “But I think he’s not the only desperate one that’s going to be out there. I think we’re going to be a desperate team fighting to bring the series back to Toronto up a game. It’s desperate for both groups, but yeah, I’m sure he’s feeling it a little bit.”
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs are at the start of their contending window. They’re playing with house money and sound like the more confident bunch.
“We’re capable of winning this series,” winger Matt Martin said. “We just have to stay the course.”
Washington defenseman Karl Alzner‘s status is unclear after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury. He skated with a handful of other players Thursday, and Trotz termed him “day to day.”
Braden Holtby, who has allowed 14 goals in four games and has a .902 save percentage, also skated. Trotz called it “a pinball machine out there” and said he wasn’t worried about Holtby but didn’t exactly give his reigning Vezina Trophy winning goaltender’s play in this series a ringing endorsement.
“It’s hard to gauge it because they’ve had a lot of strange stuff,” Trotz said, praising Holtby for being hard-nosed to handle bad bounces. “During the year, goalies, they do everything on predictability and there are a lot of things that aren’t very predictable right now and that’s what at times makes Braden look like he’s not there.”
Who’s actually not there are winger Brett Connolly, who played 4:26 in Game 4, and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who saw 12:18 of ice time with just one power-play shift. Depth was considered one of the Capitals’ advantages, but Trotz shortening his bench bears watching.