By Howard Fendrich
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ARLINGTON, Va. _ Washington Capitals defenceman Mike Green thinks his team is better equipped now to handle tight, low-scoring games than it used to be.
Which is a good thing, because their opponent in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the New York Rangers, have played in an NHL-record 10 consecutive post-season games decided by one goal heading into tonight’s Game 4 at Washington.
“The pressure definitely gains during the games when it’s only one goal. Every mistake or mishap can go in the back of your net. And you obviously don’t want to think that way, but the pressure’s there,” Green said after sitting out Tuesday’s optional skate at the Capitals’ practice facility.
“But I think we’ve done a good job of handling it, really. You don’t really feel that panic out on the ice or on the bench that maybe in recent years you felt.”
So what’s different this time around?
“Maybe maturity. Maybe we know we’ve been through it. Experience. We’re confident in our game,” Green said. “Could be a series of things.”
Might also be the steady hand of Barry Trotz, in his first season with Washington after 15 with the Nashville Predators. He’s the first coach with prior NHL experience hired by the Capitals to guide the core group of Green, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, which has never been past the second round of the playoffs.
“What he implemented at the start of the season was more of a unified team mentality than anything,” Green said. “The Xs and Os will take care of itself.”
Rangers forward Martin St. Louis notices the way Trotz has changed Washington’s strategy.
“They play a heavier game, probably, now. They probably get pucks in deep a little more. They’re allowed to sustain offensive zone time. It’s a team that’s good off the rush and heavy down low,” St. Louis said. “You got to have the puck more so they can’t play their game.”
Washington leads the best-of-seven series 2-1, in part because goalie Braden Holtby has allowed a total of four goals, one fewer than counterpart Henrik Lundqvist.
“There isn’t much room,” New York’s Rick Nash said. “It’s to be expected.”
Here’s a look at the two playoff games on tonight’s NHL schedule:
Rangers at Capitals, Washington leads 2-1, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
In the first period, the Rangers have outshot the Capitals 38-18, although only outscored them 2-1.
“They have to fix it. It’s up to them. It’s up to them to be mentally ready,” Trotz said about his players. “I mean, I think I will give a real good motivational speech and all that, but it really comes to the individual athlete to be ready.”
While Ovechkin scored in each of the series’ first two games, and has four goals in these playoffs, Nash _ third behind the Capitals’ captain in goals this season _ has been held in check: one goal in eight playoff games.
“The high-paid guys who are supposed to score are supposed to in the playoffs,” Nash acknowledged.
Canadiens at Lightning, Tampa Bay leads 2-0, 7 p.m. ET, USA Network
So what if Tampa Bay is 7-0 against Montreal this season, including the playoffs, winning all of those games by a combined 29-11? Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, perhaps simply putting on a brave face, was not ready to concede anything.
“We’re still breathing, until we’re dead. Then we’ll have a chance to think about it. But that record doesn’t mean anything,” Subban said Tuesday. “They’re not Gods. They’re not kings. They’re men. Anybody can beat anybody on any night. If we show up to play tomorrow, we’ll win.”
Subban insisted: “We know that we can be better. When we elevate our game, I don’t think there’s too many teams that can play with us.”
So far, over the past six months, the Lightning have proven they certainly can.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien also tried hard to find a silver lining when considering these teams’ recent histories.
“The good thing,” Therrien said, “is we’re due.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa and freelancer Benjamin Standig in Washington contributed to this report