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Caps Seek Uber Desperation

Game 7 Desperation. (By John McDonnell - TWP)

Things I learned from a trip to Pittsburgh this morning.

Lesson 1: Uber Desperation Needed

Pens Coach Dan Bylsma used the word "desperation" three times in his first answer today. Meantime, in the rival dressing room, we heard this: "Our backs are against the wall again tonight, and we have to play desperate hockey," Tom Poti said. I heard at least two other Caps use the same word.

Without being completely obnoxious, I tried to ask something along these lines: If it's the playoffs, and presumably you've already been playing desperate, how much more desperate can you really be?

"I mean, there's a difference between desperation in Game 1 and desperation in an elimination game, you know?" Matt Bradley said. "Yeah, you should be playing with a lot of desperation all playoffs, because each game's super important, but when it comes down to your last life...."

Oh, so it's like a video game kinda deal, where you know you need to concentrate with four lives left, but you'd ignore even your childhood scrapbook being doused with hydrofluoric acid once you're down to the last one.

"Like your last life on Pac-Man, right," Bradley said.

"Uber desperation," Brooks Laich offered. "It'd be like if this was your last blog to write."

Best answer ever. Except I would be getting ready to go celebrate that occasion with buckets of spicy snack mix in the nearest hotel bar. Anyhow, is there actually another level of desperation available?

"Well, there has to be," Brian Pothier said. "We have to find it. It's just about our tempo. We play our best when we're just flying around. We're an aggressive team by nature, and it's sort of a high-risk high-reward kind of a game sometimes. And with us, we're playing better when we're buzzing. I absolutely would expect that, and it seems like every elimination game we really figure out, this is it, so we show up."

But why would they ever stop buzzing?

"I'm not sure man," Pothier said. "I'm sure we'd probably try to figure that out. It's kind of a tough question. I know it's the playoffs, it's hard to understand if you wouldn't have that kind of desperation and tenacity. I think it's probably accurate that we haven't played our best hockey yet. We can be a little more solid as a unit, just simple reads and simple plays. I think sometimes in the playoffs, when the game's really important, it's not that you're not trying. It's almost that you're trying too hard. And you forget to play within the system, and you try to just make a great play every time you touch the puck, and it ends up being counter-productive."

Lesson 2: Memorize Your Anchors

When Lindsay Czarniak was checking into her Pittsburgh hotel, she was asked if she was the reporter who freaked out about the Verizon Center rat.

Lesson 3: Crosby Isn't Mesmerized

Here's Sidney Crosby, when asked whether he sort of holds his breath every time he's on the bench and Ovechkin begins charging up ice.

"Not any differently than I would watching other guys, besides the fact that he's got a dangerous shot and he's probably more dangerous than anybody in the league as far as opportunities in the offensive zone," Crosby said. "So once he gets to our zone obviously like everyone else, I'm watching to see if he's gonna get one off if he's got the puck, but I don't get caught up in it too much."

Lesson 4: Forget Inspirational Speeches

Before Game 1 of the Rangers series, Bruce Boudreau showed his players a newly produced motivational video, filled with season highlights and movie clips and I'm not sure what else. Players don't really like to talk about stuff like that, but it's something Boudreau has done in the past. This time, his team lost its next two games.

I say that only because with this team on the verge of elimination, it was popular this morning to ask players and coaches what would be said in the dressing room tonight.

"For some reason the media around D.C. want to make something about what goes on, who speaks in our locker room," Laich responded to some idiot bald blogger. "Well done is a lot better than well said. If too many guys are talking a lot, then it gets to be a moot point and nobody listens. Anybody can talk, anybody can say anything in the locker room; it's the guys that go out and do it that you really respect. Our locker room for the most part's pretty quiet. Somebody'll pipe up here and there, but we're all professionals, we know what we have to do.

"We don't rely on somebody to give a speech between periods to get us going. Us for some reason you guys always ask about our locker room. At the trade deadline, 'Do you need a voice in the locker room since Clarkie's not there?' Our locker room's not like that. We just go out and do it. Eighty-two games, plus playoffs, it gets to be old hearing voices talk all the time. You just want to see people perform."

Ok, fine, but what about in the dressing room before the third period of Game 7 against the Rangers, when a few players mentioned that several leaders had gotten up to speak inspirational thoughts?

"I don't even remember what anybody said or what I said," the captain, Chris Clark said. "You need to say something, but then again, everybody knows what's on the line."

C'mon, before the third period of Game 7! Massive inspiration? Didn't he have any idea what I was talking about? "No, sorry," Clark said.

Pothier told me that Sergei Fedorov had spoke up, and that "he's very good at saying the right thing at the right time, and because he doesn't talk every other second, guys listen a lot more." So what exactly did Fedorov say?

"I can't really remember; it was in the paper, I think Tarik wrote it," David Steckel said. "I mean, we won the game. Whether it put people at ease a little more or it didn't, I don't know, but it didn't change the way I played."

"It's not that you're going to say anything and all of a sudden, 'Wow, ok, yeah, you're right, we really need to play well," Pothier added. "We all know what we have to do. It's just sort of a matter of reminding ourselves."

Lesson 5: Green's Ok

Teammates followed Boudreau's lead in saying Mike Green and Alexander Semin will be just fine.

"I think they've played well, but [there's] a lot of media attention this time of year," Laich said. "I think a lot of the criticism has been unjust to those guys. They're our stars, and there's a lot of things that they're doing really well. Sometimes you go through spurts where pucks don't go in the net, but you just keep working."

"You're not gonna score every game, there's not many people that can do that," Clark said. "Might be a couple, and one of them's [Ovechkin], but [Green's] a defenseman, he's playing well, he's contributing defensively and offensively. It's just not showing up on the scoresheet, but I don't think he's having a bad series at all."

"It's been a tough series for a few guys, but everyone's been playing hard, everyone's been trying as hard as they can," Poti said.

Lesson 6: Not Much Else to Say:

I would agree with the players that, at some point (right now, for example), there's not much else to say, even for those of us who are paid to think of something to say. All day, the Pittsburgh sports talk medium has been debating whether or not the Penguins should dress six or seven defensemen tonight. You can only take so much of that. "Game-time decision," by the way.

"I don't know if there's much to say--I think everybody knows what's at stake," Clark said. "It's not like we don't know what's going on. We lose, we go home. It's understood. Nobody wants that. We have too good a team to let this be our last game of the season, or the next game be our last game of the season. We know we've got a special team and we can go far. We just have to get past this round."

Lesson 7: The Pirates' Season is Over:

"It's over," said the sports talk radio host in my hotel lobby just said. "The season is over. So with that in mind, what WAS the highlight of the 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates season?"

Now they're actually picking their favorite moments. This is great. What's the opposite of a bandwagon again?

By Dan Steinberg  |  May 11, 2009; 3:04 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Next: Penguins Prez Has History in D.C.


Dan: "But why would they ever stop buzzing?"

Wow - Dan, you must have never played competitive sports before- and yet you cover them. hmm.

Posted by: popopo | May 11, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Lesson 24: Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they will fight hard.

~ "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu (6 hundred years before Jesus Christ was born)

Posted by: CodePoetry | May 11, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse


Does dodgeball count? Or what about darts. I smoked a bunch of reporters and one of the Caps PR guys in 301 the other day with a walk-off three. My celebration woulda made Ovie blush.

Look, just trying to fill the hours here, but the question was, if the Caps need to "buzz" to win, why would they stop? Obviously it's much more complicated than just deciding to stop or start, but a bunch of players have been saying it's somehow in their control to play even more desperate, and I think "buzzing" ties into that. There's no good answer, clearly.

Posted by: DanSteinberg1 | May 11, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Keep the faith. Caps in 7.

Posted by: CPortisRun | May 11, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

If I were from Pittsburgh my outlook on life would be "its over". What do they have but their sports teams? You gotta love the smell of superfund sites in the morning...... LETS GO CAPITALS!

Posted by: mjwies11 | May 11, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Wale' couldn't have said it better himself.

On second thought, he probably could have and with a 9th Wonder beat backing him up.

Posted by: StetSportsBlog | May 11, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

This desperation goes to 11.

Posted by: Landru | May 11, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I think part of the desperation thing is like procastination. I know I should get my paper done before the due date, preferably with time to proof read it and get a good night's sleep. But usually my best ideas come at about 4am, somehow I just can't make myself get the same inspiration until I HAVE too. I realize i'm not a millionare professional athlete, but I think its human nature to only be able to muster up that last bit when you absolutely have to and all the wanting to or knowing you should won't help.

Posted by: finnmeg | May 11, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Last night during the game I was amazed to hear that the Caps had been called for twice as many penalties as the Pens. I was sure that this was not the case during the regular season, but just to be sure I looked it up. Regular season: Caps 414 minor penalties, Pens 397 minor penalties, Caps 29 major penalties, Pens 40 majors, Caps 447 total penalties, Pens 447 total penalties, Caps 1021 minutes, Pens 1106 minutes. No matter how you add up these numbers they don’t add up to 32 penalties called on the Caps to 18 called on the Pens during the playoffs. In the first 7 game series the Caps were called for 31 minor penalties, in the Pens first 6 game series the Pens were called for 32 minor penalties. There are two explanations for this: #1 the refs have been doing a terrible job calling the games or #2 this is the way the NHL wants our series called. These are not small inconsistencies, these are glaring inconsistencies.

Posted by: majiksea | May 12, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Landru- +1

Posted by: kevbnyc | May 12, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

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