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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Imagine that one of Ted Leonsis’ pixelites called the boss just after the Washington Capitals‘ 5-2 Game 6 win Monday night in Pittsburgh.


“Boss, what’s the plan now for giveaways for Game 7? Cowbells? Light sticks?”


AUDIO: Sportscaster Jim Lampley with Thom Loverro


“No, we’re going to have to do something different,” Ted said. “I have make a call.”

Ted then says, “Siri, call CVS.”

He reaches the pharmacy department and says, “CVS? I’d like to order 18,000 doses of Xanax, to be delivered to the Verizon Center on Wednesday.”

Ted then tells another one of his pixelites, “We need to put those doses in those 18,000 pill boxes with the Capitals logo we’ve been saving for worst-case scenario.”

This fictional conversation illustrates the pain or pleasure that awaits Capitals fans at the Verizon Center Wednesday night.

A home Game 7 in the playoffs is tough enough (a 4-10 record). A home Game 7 in the playoffs against the Penguins? Memories of past game sevens against Pittsburgh come up like acid reflux.

The taste of the 2009 Game 7 at home against the Penguins is still lingering in the throats of Capitals fans. The city was on fire going into that game, anticipating the first of what was expected to be multiple Stanley Cups for the Alex Ovechkin Capitals.

This was before the 2010 President’s Cup team that lost in the first round to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the seventh game in full view of Capitals fans at the Verizon Center. This was before the 2012 game second round seventh game loss to the New York Rangers on the road.

This was before the 2013 first round seventh game 5-0 loss to the Rangers at home. This was before the Game 7 2015 second-round loss to the Rangers in New York. And this was before last year’s Capitals President’s Cup team second-round Game 6 overtime loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

No one saw all that pain coming after the 2009 seventh game loss, when the Capitals were down 2-0 before fans were even in their seats at the Verizon Center, 4-0 two minutes into the second period and 6-2 when many of the Capitals fans were already on their way home.

You add all that up, and it’s a prescription for severe anxiety.

This Game 7 between the Capitals and the Penguins at the Verizon Center could be one the greatest sports moments this city has witnessed. Or it could be one of the most painful — a much longer list over the past 25 years.

It would be hard for the spectrum of pleasure or pain to be more accentuated.

“We’re having fun now,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told reporters after his team’s dominant win Monday night.

Maybe Trotz is onto something here. After Washington came back to win Game 5 Saturday night, Trotz talked about having “fun” going to Pittsburgh down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.

“There’s nothing better than playoff hockey,” Trotz said. “Let’s enjoy this. We’re going to have fun in Pittsburgh and see if we get a result.”

They got a result, all right.

Could you imagine Bruce Boudreau in this situation? They would need a tractor to extract a pin from his buttocks right around now.

Trotz, though, may have finally managed to put this team in the right place mentally for this kind of challenge. He spoke about it in the middle of the season after a Capitals loss to Dallas at home.

“We have learned some lessons,” he said. “I think our room is real strong. I think our culture has grown from year one to two to three. It’s just changed, the culture has changed over the course of time. Winning just doesn’t happen, you have to create that culture, that response … I think it is a little bit different. It’s grown. You have to build it, grow it, and I think our leadership, our staff and organization has done that.”

That change may have been what set the tone for the Capitals in the middle of this series against Pittsburgh – a change from panic to peace.

“Our group has [had] pretty good resolve,” Trotz said. “We’ve grown through our past a little bit. We’ve had a calmness since Game 3.”

Trotz, who has never coached a team past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 16 seasons as an NHL head coach, will have a place in Washington history if he is able to coach this Capitals team to three straight wins over the Penguins in this series.

His decision to move Ovechkin from the first to the third line will become the stuff of legend. And his demeanor will be the story that mothers and fathers tell their sons and daughters — the coach who spit in the face of Capitals history.

“I don’t know if there’s any hump to get over,” Trotz said.

No, it’s not a hump. It’s Mount Everest, and Barry Trotz may be Sir Edmund Hillary.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.


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