Stadium Series Notebook: Capitals Take Things Outside, Family Skate Highlights
The Washington Capitals headed outdoors for the Stadium Series practice, which provided a much-needed spark for the team ahead of Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
RALEIGH, N.C. — In the throes of a playoff race and with emotions running high, the Washington Capitals took to the outdoors in Raleigh on Friday in preparation for their Stadium Series game against the Carolina Hurricanes. And for the team, playing on the biggest stage couldn't come at a more perfect time.
Washington has dropped the last three games and is now out of playoff position following the New York Islanders' 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. It's a one-point deficit that a win on Saturday could fix, and the outdoor game is also one that could provide a much-needed spark as the team looks to break out of its struggles and finish strong down the stretch.
"If you're inside our locker room, if you can't find one reason or another to be ultra-motivated for this match, I don't know if you got a heartbeat," T.J. Oshie declared.
Not only are the playoffs on the line, but the Capitals are trying to get a win for Alex Ovechkin, who lost his father, Mikhail, on Wednesday and remains away from the team indefinitely. For years, Ovechkin has been the centerpiece that has led the team through adversity at times like this. Now his teammates want to return the favor by rallying around their captain, who texted his teammates before practice to tell them that he loves and misses them.
"You miss him. Like, crazy things like this, he's much a fun guy to have around. He's the perfect guy to market for the game of hockey and big events like this on the biggest stage," Tom Wilson said. "It's weird not having him around, he's such a leader for us… we want to do our best for him. He's a guy that you miss big time when he's not around, so all we can do is support him."
READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals Inspired By Oshie's Grit, Leading By Example With Ovechkin Out
For Washington, though, not having their captain means that it's time for others to pick up the slack. The team has dropped the last five games overall without their captain, and though his absence is notable, the Capitasl want to prove that they can win for him.
"It's a big role to fill, but I feel like it's up to everyone to step up and try to fill that role," Nicklas Backstrom noted. "It's going to be hard because he's one of the best players of all time, but especially in the situation we're in now, I think everyone needs to play a little bit better and make sure we're trying to fill his role."
"We want to, we need to get a win for our captain, for O, under the big lights out here," Oshie added.
After a 30-minute practice where they ran through lines and ran different drills, and also got encouraging updates on Wilson, Nic Dowd and Marcus Johansson, the Capitals brought their family and friends onto the ice. The skate and time with loved ones was much-needed for the struggling Capitals.
"I always feel like outdoor games give you a little bit reset and you can forget about a couple days and everything else," Evgeny Kuznetsov said. "You just stay in the moment, enjoy it. I feel like same time, we have to remember there is a big two points for us and have to focus on that, but that will be tomorrow. So today we had fun enjoying, spending time with the family, which means for them a lot I hope."
Overall, the practice was a precursor to a critical division showdown that not only has an impact on the standings, but can set the tone for the remainder of the season and perhaps turn the tide for Washington.
"It's awesome," Backstrom said. "I think first of all, very fortunate to be part of an outdoor game and to have your family out the day before and for the family skate, it's a great thing and memories for life… it's a super special thing to be able to play outdoors and everything that comes around it, but I think inside of the locker room, we're aware of how important these points are. And when the game starts, we're going to be focused and ready to go."