NEW YORK -- The intensity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is hard to miss. It's so prevalent, in fact, that when it disappears, it's easy to notice.
That lack of intensity caught the eye of several Capitals during their 3-1 loss in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Brooks Laich, one of the unquestioned leaders of the team and a prominent voice in the locker room, spoke about the attitude of the team following practice Sunday morning.
"It's an intense time of year and we're here to win," Laich said. "It takes so much to win that every little thing matters. If there's things I think we can be doing better, then I'm going to try to help to do that, try to find a way to get the most out of our guys. It's something we'll address in the room, and I don't care to share much more than that."
Linemate Troy Brouwer, who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, delved a little deeper into the situation.
"We've been a pretty loose team all year long," Brouwer said. "You can see it even during the morning skate before Game 7 (against the Boston Bruins in the first round), we were having fun and joking around. I think that's a lot of our personality as a team, but at the same time, you have to make sure you're tight. You have to make sure you're making crisp passes and being sharp. I think we were a little bit nonchalant.
"You can't let it get out of hand, that's for sure."
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The nonchalant attitude appeared in the form of poor passing in the neutral zone that translated into turnovers and a poor line change that led to Chris Kreider's game-winning goal in the third period. The Capitals generated just 18 shots on goal in the loss and just one from Alex Ovechkin.
Coach Dale Hunter had Ovechkin with Laich and Brouwer at practice Sunday, and that trio had just three shots during Game 1. Some of it had to do with facing the shutdown defense pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, but Laich said that can't be an excuse this time of year.
"We were talking about that and talking about the goaltending," Laich said. "You're not going to get any easy assignments from now on. Every goaltender you face is going to be good and you're going to face the top defensive pairings. That's nothing new to us. Ovi plays against those guys all year long and we faced the Rangers last couple years in the playoffs. We know what to expect. We just have to be better."
Ovechkin said his inability to carry the puck through the neutral zone with speed was his downfall in Game 1. Washington's lone goal was the result of Laich carrying the puck unimpeded through the neutral zone and dropping a perfect saucer pass onto the stick of Jason Chimera during the final seconds of the second period.
During the Capitals' seven-game series with the Bruins, which was absent of consistent scoring opportunities for either team, Ovechkin said he learned to bide his time when it comes to getting offensive chances.
"Sometimes you have to be patient," Ovechkin said. "I learned from last series against Boston when you play well you can only have one chance in two games to have that opportunity. That was kind of a good experience for me. The guys know if I have speed and they give me the puck, it's going to be better.
"For me, I had more time and space than when I played against Boston, 100 percent. I just have to be better in the neutral zone to create that kind of opportunity for me and for Brooksie and Brouwer. You can see when Chimer scored the goal, we could fly in the neutral zone and Brooksie found Chimer. So we just have to do the same."
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