How to get up for Atlanta in April?
The last time the Caps played a game, they were facing their arch rivals, in their last regular-season appearance at the Igloo, with the Penguins still scrapping desperately for playoff position.
Now they come home, to face Atlanta. The Thrashers have been eliminated from the playoffs. The Caps have clinched the best record in the league, the most wins and most points in franchise history. To an onlooker, it would seem like it might be hard to get up for this particular game.
"I don't think so," Eric Fehr said. "They're gonna try hard, we're gonna try hard, and it's gonna be a hard-fought game. That's just the way hockey players are. We don't ever take games lightly."
"Any time you play in the NHL it's not tough to get up for it, that's for sure," Jason Chimera agreed. "It's a privilege to play in this league. I think a lot of young guys on that team are playing for positions next year, and you don't want to be lackadaisical in the playoffs else you can get burned in the first round, so you've got to keep your game up. You can't really have any letups or else you pay for it in the first round of the playoffs."
Of course, some things are obviously different. Starters are being rested all over the place. Friday's scratches seem likely to include Mike Knuble, for example.
"At this point, the last two games are not really gonna faze you one way or the other no matter what happens," the veteran said.
And at least one player admitted that no matter what the schedule says, he's ready for the postseason to start.
"It seems like these games are not a formality, but more of a hassle than they are anything else," Joe Corvo said. "I think everybody's ready to go. I think there's a lot of expectations, and I think everybody's just excited to meet those. If you ask anybody here, you're just so excited about what the end result could be that it's tough to stay calm sometimes."
("You said it's a hassle?" Shaone Morrisonn asked Corvo with a laugh. "That's Joe, though. Joe's different from other guys."
I told "that's just the way hockey players are" Fehr about what Corvo had said. "Ask Canadian hockey players," the smiling Fehr responded.)
And while Corvo joked about meeting up with the Atlanta players before the game and instituting a "no hitting" rule, he said that Bruce Boudreau has been adamant that his team must continue to win.
"Bruce specifically does a good job of just kind of expressing that we play a certain brand of hockey, and we want to win every game, and that's how we should think of it," Corvo said. "Like nobody beats us, just have that mentality as motivation."
"No one likes to lose, right?" Morrisonn explained. "We've had a couple days off, we're at home, it's a Friday night. Why not?"
Anyhow, as multiple players emphasized, if you start putting forth 95 percent effort, that's when you get hurt. That's when something bizarre happens. That's when two players bang skulls and knock each other out. The lesson: I might be more excited about the NFL draft than the WNBA version, but fair play compels me to blog equally hard about both events.
"It's just bad karma, it really is," Fehr said. "You take a game lightly, something will happen, something stupid. So you just don't do it. It's not superstition, it's karma. It's totally different."
It felt to me like even the fans were a tad on the tame side Monday against Boston, the day after the Caps had locked up the league's best record. But the fans aren't exactly getting compensated for their time..
"They're professionals," Boudreau said of his charges. "They get paid. They're playing in front of 18,000 people....I think we want to be as good as we can be for the whole year. Not just 80 games, not 75, but 82 games, and then be on a whole other level for the next X amount of games. I think that's what they want to do."
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