WASHINGTON — The hatred and the gamesmanship have reached DEFCON 1.
This first-round Eastern Conference series between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers has reached Game 6 and it’s getting nasty on and off the ice. The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals had a 3-0 lead until the Flyers pulled out two consecutive wins to make it interesting. Philadelphia will try to knot the series at 3-3 when puck drops at noon ET Sunday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Despite the outcome of the last two games — Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth has been the difference — Capitals coach Barry Trotz is pleased with his team’s play.
“It evens out. It always does,” Trotz said. “I make fun of the hockey gods, but when you look back, it sort of always evens out. If you play hard and you play well, you’re going to get rewarded. Just play the right way, and right now I like the way we’re playing. We’re playing the right way.
“We’ve just got to find the back of the net, and we will.”
The physicality and nastiness has progressed too. Both teams are taking liberties and both coaches are voicing their displeasure.
It was evident the Capitals took exception to the Brayden Schenn‘s cross-check to the knees of Evgeny Kuznetsov in Game 4, because teammate T.J. Oshie dropped the gloves with Schenn to begin Game 5. With the retaliation in the books, the teams settled in for a spirited contest.
“It’s always cool when you feel somebody [having your back] and I talked with Osh about that after the game,” Kuznetsov said. “I just want to say thanks. But it set the tone and we’re not worried about that slash [anymore] and it’s history, so we can focus on the next game.”
Schenn has been a physical presence for the Flyers. Not only did he drop the gloves, he has been on the receiving end of a few hits that Flyers coach Dave Hakstol has not been pleased with, especially since one of his players — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — missed one game this series due to a suspension for his hit on Capitals’ defenseman Dmitry Orlov.
“It’s a hard, physical series,” Hakstol said. “There’s a couple of hits out there again [in Game 5]. To me, we sat back and were very respectful of the league’s decision on Belley and his hit. I think there’s a couple out there — one at center ice in the third and another one over on the wall — that are every bit as impactful as Belley’s hit, so it’s that kind of series.
“We’ll go back, look at the things we can do better. If there are adjustments, we’ll try to make them and most importantly regain our energy and get ready to go back at it. It’s going to be another hard-fought battle on Sunday.”
Hakstol is pleased with Schenn’s game.
“He’s playing his game. He’s a power forward. He’s playing hard. He’s doing all the things you can ask out of a teammate,” Hakstol said. “I think he’s playing straight up. He’s done it all series long.
“He’s playing hard, meeting everything head-on and he’s been a really good player for us.”
After Washington’s loss in Game 5, the whispers began about the team’s past playoff failures. Trotz said he’s not concerned about the past and is only focused on Game 6.
Capitals forward Mike Richards was on the 2009-10 Flyers team that erased a 3-0 deficit and beat the Boston Bruins in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Philadelphia eventually reached the finals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. Richards remembers how it felt to make history that spring.
“It was pretty special,” Richards said. “You don’t really know what to expect, to be honest. You just go out there and play at that point. We got some fortunate bounces and luckily came back.”
Richards and his Capitals teammates don’t want to experience a historic meltdown.
“If we’re frustrated, we just need to take a deep breath, relax and realize the task at hand is winning one game, nothing more than that,” said the Capitals’ Justin Williams, who has been a member of three Stanley Cup-winning teams. “The first round is tough, just like any round. Nothing’s for free and we have to earn it on the road now.
“Slowly one team will inch towards the back of the wall. They’re going to get less room and either you go down swinging, or you go down quietly, and no team in this league is going to go down without a fight. We’ve got to work hard to earn it.”