Pressure. That one little word is the biggest reason why the playoffs and the regular season are so different. The crowds are bigger, louder, more hostile, and much more demanding. The same thing goes for your coaches and teammates.
But the biggest difference is the fear. The fear that you won’t win both games at home to open a series. The fear that the lower seeded team had to fight harder to get into the playoffs so they might be on a streak. The fear that your players won’t be able to perform to the expectations of the very demanding Stanley Cup playoffs.
Every team goes through these at some point or another and the Washington Capitals are no different. In game 1 their starting goaltender, Jose Theodore, had a bad game; surrendering 4 goals on 21 shots. Suddenly Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was faced with a goaltender controversy. Does he put Theodore back out there after a bad game and sacrifice going down 2-0 into New York? Or does he put in the young rookie Simeon Varlamov, who is very skilled but highly unproven?
Well Boudreau decided to go with Varlamov with the hopes that it would spark his team to a playoff win. But despite the change the result was similar; the Rangers won 1-0.
The Capitals rushed their shots—often getting shots blocked or missed the net—and missed their chances when they had them. Ovechkin decided that he was going to take it upon himself to tie the game, and as a result he tried to do too much with the puck consistently. He himself rushed shots, passed up passing to open teammates and tried to go through two or three guys instead of dumping the puck deep.
Mike Green was also a victim of doing this, often skating all the way to the goal line in order to force plays instead of dumping it in and letting his forwards chase it. This might not seem like a big deal but it is. The Capitals number one power play unit has a tendency to stay out for the full two minutes, as a result they are usually always tired. So doing extra skating when you can just throw the puck in deep doesn’t help your case.
That is not to take away anything from Henrik Lundqvist who was incredible. He made 35 saves against the offensively gifted Capitals, and completed the third shutout of his playoff career. The biggest, and maybe only, knock against Lundqvist has been that he steals games all the time in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. Well why don’t all of you who feel that way ask the Washington Capitals whether or not they agree with that sentiment. Lundqvist has now stolen both games the Rangers have taken part in this spring.
Now the pressure is really on the Capitals. The hockey world who called this an “Easy series” who thought that the Capitals were going to rock the Rangers out of the playoffs, are now stunned to see them lose both games. They sit down 2-0 with the possibility of being swept at New York. I wouldn’t have wanted to go into the Garden with the series tied 1-1 I REALLY wouldn’t want to have to go into the Garden down 2-0.
If you want to talk about pressure, there really isn’t anything else to say than a MUST win in a hostile environment like the Garden. It will be interesting to see how the Capitals handle it. They needed a win today, and they didn’t get it. They had their power play opportunities they had their odd man rushes and they couldn’t capitalize. They were frustrated they were outplayed and now they are down in a critical series.
Let’s see how they handle that kind of pressure …