Interesting quotes from Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik about his team. This is a guy who played a key role in ousting Washington from the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. Now, he’s seeing a newfound maturity creep into its game. It certainly wasn’t there late in Bruce Boudreau’s coaching tenure here or in the first few months under Dale Hunter.
“I think we’ve been playing our last 10 games and the regular season pretty good hockey games. We kind of bring it to the playoffs,” Hamrlik said. “We play as a team. I don’t see this team’s play as selfish as before, let’s say when I played with Montreal against the Capitals. There’s lot of teamwork with this team. That’s why we are successful.”
That echoes similar comments from players like Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble that Washington has finally adjusted to Hunter’s style. It’s hard to completely kill the older models of this team. After all, that young group did win elimination Game 6 road games in Philadelphia in 2008 and in New York and Pittsburgh in 2009. And they did beat the Rangers in a Game 7 at home that same year. They closed out New York in style last spring in a Game 5 at home.
That takes some level of mental fortitude. It’d be stretching the narrative to say otherwise. But that mental toughness wasn’t always there consistently. Washington has shown it in spades this spring by beating Boston in a critical Game 4 down 2-1 in that first-round series, shaking off an overtime loss earlier in that series, winning four times on the road already, including Game 7 last week at TD Garden. They are in a similar position now with a must-win home game on Saturday down 2-1 to the Rangers.
“I don't know. I thought our teams in the past were tough, too. I really don't know how to answer that,” Laich said. “I think our guys, we don't get shook up by a whole lot. They're pretty resilient and pretty calm and pretty composed. But a lot of that comes from our head coach. He's calm behind the bench and he always instills positive thoughts and positives things into his players. He doesn't lose his composure behind the bench and that really has a calming effect on the players, especially through the course of a game and the course of a series where there's ups and downs, it can really help to keep your team pretty level.”
A fair criticism of Boudreau was that he didn’t always show that same level of calm. The image sticks in my mind of veteran center Jason Arnott tugging on Boudreau’s sleeve on the bench during an eventual Game 4 triple overtime win at Madison Square Garden last spring. Boudreau was screaming at one of the on-ice officials at the time. Hunter rarely reacts to those kinds of things. Having said that, none of it matters if the players don’t buy into his system. Just in time this group responded. Can they do it one more time?
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