Sunday, May 08, 2016

Energy, belief help fuel Capitals in victory over Penguins

By Thom Loverro
May 8, 2016

Penguins Capitals Hockey Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie, center, celebrates his goal with Alex Ovechkin (8) and Nicklas Backstrom in the second period on Saturday. (AP/Nick Wass)

When Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz arrived at Verizon Center Saturday night, he told his coaches, “We’re winning tonight. There’s no question.”

I would question whether or not there was a question of that. I would say there were many questions on the table that would raise doubts the Capitals would not fold like a lawn chair being down 3-1 in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But then, I’m not a Capitals fan.
It seemed as if most of those who showed up at Verizon Center on Saturday night had the same conversations that Trotz had with his coaches. And, like the coach, they were right, as the Capitals played their best game of the playoffs in a 3-1 win over the Penguins, sending this series back for a Game 6 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
…And Game 7, back here at Verizon Center on Thursday night?
“We plan on playing for a while,” said T.J. Oshie, who had the go-ahead power-play goal in the second period, breaking a 1-1 tie.
If they return home for Game 7, this fan base will post — an arena full of people who believe in their team. It’s remarkable, really, given the history of the team sending fans home disappointed and dejected year after year.
Same old Capitals? You couldn’t prove it from the crowd at Verizon Center on Saturday night.
The crowd, right from the drop of the puck, had a frenzied level of energy that said they believed — even though this team has, for the most part, given no real reason in this series to have that level of confidence.
Even when the Capitals, after taking a 1-0 lead early in the first period on a stunningly impressive Alex Ovechkin power-play goal that barely touched his stick before he sent it like a missile into the net, gave up the tying goal and then wound up being outshot in the period, 12-4.
Even when Nicklas Backstrom did his best to take crowd out of it with a foolish interference penalty, and Justin Williams found himself in a familiar place — back in the penalty box.
But the crowd was there, loud and intense, and exploded when Oshie put them back ahead, 2-1.
Then came the Braden Holtby saves, one after the other late in the second period, that lit the building up, as the crowd chanted, “Holtby, Holtby.” The Capitals took over control of the game, with a Williams goal on a Penguins turnover to seal it, and the crowd celebrated.
“They were unbelievable tonight,” Oshie said. “They have been all season. I don’t know what the noise meter said tonight but I think it went up a few notches.”
I don’t know where it comes from, given the baggage that Capitals fans have to carry with them when they come to the arena, but they responded Saturday night — and so did their team.
“The crowd was fantastic,” Trotz said. “I think they believe in this team. I think in the last two years people have believed in what we are trying to do, and it has shown in our fans. They are starting to believe in this group. We get energy from it. Pittsburgh will get energy from their crowd. They were real good. It was a fun game.”
After three consecutive losses to Pittsburgh and talk about a lack of urgency and desperation, it didn’t seem like there were going to be any more fun games this season. Capitals fans who came to Verizon Center on Saturday night seemed to believe otherwise.
They were right.
SEE ALSO: Power play gives Capitals new life in Game 6 victory over Penguins

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