As the media stirred outside Washington Capitals the locker room for over 10 minutes, the team leaders came up to head coach Barry Trotz and told him they would handle the postgame talk in the locker room. The team had just lost 6-2 in front of their home fans — or at least the small number that were left when the final horn sounded — to go down 2-0 in their second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Nicklas Backstrom, the quiet Swede whose quiet demeanor hides his world-class skill, spoke to the team. Backstrom came to the team almost 10 years ago after being a fourth overall pick, eventually rising to be one of the team’s biggest locker room presences and an alternate captain. The rest of the team then opened up.
“None of your business,” defenseman Matt Niskanen shot back when asked what message was. That question was later followed up by one on the team’s mood. Again, Niskanen was displeased with the line of inquiry. “None of your business,” he grumbled again.
While all the players made available to the reporters declined to provide significant details of the meeting, TJ Oshie said it was helpful.
“I don’t think specifics are important to get out into the media,” TJ Oshie said. “What was said, I think, was the correct message of how we want to go forward.”
Justin Williams, who was brought in by the Capitals for his experience and acumen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, agreed, arguing Washington was not finished yet.
“A lot of guys said some good stuff in here after the game,” Williams told reporters. “I’ve been down 3-0, I’ve been down 2-0 a couple times. You just gotta win one at a time. It’s an overused cliché but it’s exactly right come playoff time. We’re right there, just not quite there.”
Other players were more dour. Alex Ovechkin, the team captain, spoke for just 40 seconds before ending the scrum and leaving the room after two questions.
“The series goes to four games,” Ovechkin said. “Of course it’s tough.”
Braden Holtby, who was pulled by Trotz after the second period after allowing three goals on 14 shots, was similarly curt.
“It wasn’t as we planned,” he said. “It’s just, I don’t know.”
Holtby, normally a wall during the playoffs, has been subpar in the 2017 postseason, posting a 4-4 record, 2.62 goals-against average, and a staggering .911 save percentage.
“[I]t’s never where you want to be,” Holtby said. “But the playoffs are made of big moments. That third goal – that’s a big moment. That’s where your goalie needs to come up with a save and I just didn’t.”
When asked whether he had been told whether he was told whether he would start Game Three, Holtby paused, shrugging and shaking his head.
“I’ll be ready,” he said. “I mean, that’s — I expect to start every game until I’m told otherwise.”
Trotz said it was too early to say whether Holtby will start Game Three, which would be a huge blow to the “backbone” of the team, as the coach put it.
When asked how Holtby will handle the situation, Niskanen replied: “He’s an adult.”
The Capitals will now lick their wounds during an off day Sunday before heading to Pittsburgh as they attempt to claw their way back in the series.
“We have a lot of respect for that team,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said.
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