Sports Minute: Past 2 champions Capitals, Blues struggle to start playoffs
By STEPHEN WHYNOAP Hockey Writer
Hours after the Washington Capitals were sunk by allowing four consecutive goals, St. Louis coach Craig Berube saw his Blues lose confidence after falling behind in their Game 1.
It shouldn't be that easy for the last two Stanley Cup winners to fall apart, but the Capitals now have to come back in their series against former coach Barry Trotz's New York Islanders, and the defending champion Blues trail the smaller, quicker Vancouver Canucks.
St. Louis will try to recapture its swagger in Game 2 Friday (6:30 p.m. EDT, NHL Network)
"Maybe we don’t have it right now," Berube said. “We’ve got to come out the next shift and just get right back at what we were doing well. That’s what we were so good at before. We’ve got to get back to that. We’ve come from behind. we won in a lot of different ways and fashions, so we can’t let one goal affect us.”
Perhaps there's a common explanation to the Capitals' and Blues' struggles to ramp up their games. They each play a big, heavy style that Boston coach Bruce Cassidy theorized takes longer to get going than smaller, skilled teams.
Trotz knows that well from coaching the Capitals to their first title in franchise history in 2018.
“Some of the bigger teams take a little while to get rolling,” Trotz said. “I’ve lived it on the other end. I do subscribe to that that some of the bigger teams will take some time to wear you out, but if you’re playing another big team, then it’s pretty well equal.”
The Islanders aren't afraid to play that style, either, and they'll try to do the same in Game 2 (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network).
“We’re both going to try to wear each other down,” New York forward Cal Clutterbuck said. "Good. I love it. Let’s go.”
Washington will try to mount a comeback with top center Nicklas Backstrom, who's in concussion protocol after a big hit from Islanders captain Anders Lee in the first period of Game 1. Lars Eller slots back in after an absence for the birth of his son, Alexander, and Travis Boyd remains in the lineup.
“Who’s going to take advantage of that opportunity?” coach Todd Reirden said. “That’s playoff hockey. That’s winning hockey during the regular season is having guys that are in depth positions that take advantage of it. Sometimes you have players that roles are elevated within the game. That’s what we’re challenged with and we’ll be ready for that.”
The Arizona Coyotes face a different kind of challenge in Game 2 against the Colorado Avalanche (2 p.m., NHL) after being outshot 40-14 in a 3-0 loss in the series opener. Colorado — unlike St. Louis and Washington — has its game rolling because of a reliance on speed and the offense talent to make a major difference in games.
Captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson wondered if the Coyotes respected the Avalanche too much in Game 1. Expect that approach to change.
“The best way to respect your opponent is to go out and play hard and play in their face and respect them that way,” winger Taylor Hall said. “It’s not sit back on your heels. ... The best way to show respect is to go out there and play in their face, play on your toes and see what happens.”
The Montreal Canadiens played on their toes against the Eastern Conference top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 and came away with confidence despite a 2-1 loss.
“I really think they really benefited from playing a series before,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “They got that taste of the real playoff hockey, and definitely give them credit: they were relentless out there.”
Montreal will be without 60-year-old coach Claude Julien, taken to the hospital with chest pains, for the rest of the series. Associate coach Kirk Muller takes over Julien's responsibilities beginning in Game 2 (3 p.m., NBCSN).
“Moving forward, I met with the coaches this morning — I have faith in them,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said. “We beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and it’s not the coaches that beat them, it’s the players. We have the same group.”
Two interim coaches' teams face off in in the second half of a back-to-back with Game 3 Friday night (10:30 p.m. NBCSN): Rick Bowness' Dallas Stars against Geoff Ward's Calgary Flames.
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