The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Jim Corsi, David Marcoux, Paul MacLean and Joe Mullen will take turns providing insight.
In this edition, Marcoux, former goalie coach for the Carolina Hurricanes and the Calgary Flames, explores the shifts in thinking in the Stanley Cup Final and how each side might be looking at Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The Stanley Cup Final has revealed a couple of elements of the mental game that fascinate me.
We have talked a lot about the differences between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals and the difference between the goalies, in particular how much fun Marc-Andre Fleury of the Golden Knights was having in the playoffs and about the all-situation calmness of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.
[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]
In the first three rounds of the playoffs, Fleury provided all the answers for Vegas' success. This was especially evident in the Western Conference Final against the Winnipeg Jets and exemplified with his rapid-fire, back-to-back saves on Mark Scheifele in Game 3.
Now we have seen another such game-changer or series-changer with Holtby's late-game save on Alex Tuch in Game 2.
From that point on, the Final seems to have been going in one direction. Of course, each team has a goal to be relentless and to keep going hard but at some point, does the momentum that seems to have started with Holtby's save get in the heads of the Golden Knights?
We saw goal-scorer James Neal hit the far post on a wide-open net in Game 4 on Monday, and to me, that was astounding. And now maybe we are seeing how the mind works sometimes.
That save by Holtby was a big one and the media was all over it. It was being written about everywhere and replayed over and over again. I know it's important if you're Vegas not to let it get in your head, but I think it's pretty clear what's been happening since then.
Video: Missed opportunities for Vegas in Game 4
From a goal-scoring perspective, Washington has had more togetherness with its offense. The Capitals are battle-tested over time and their power play has been simply amazing. The chemistry is clear and they know who's doing what and who's going to be where and it's like they can keep on scoring goals no matter what.
On the other hand, including Game 1 of the Final, the Golden Knights were scoring a lot by committee, sometimes with their power play and other times 5-on-5.
But now it's been hard for them to score and we're suddenly talking as if the series is over.
It's intriguing how we tend to jump on the bandwagon of whoever has won the last game or the past two games.
Me, I don't think the series is over. I think Vegas, if they can find a way to muster up a win here in Game 5 on Thursday, they will put a new spin on the Final.
Why would things be different Thursday?
At some point, the teams will realize the Stanley Cup will be in the building. At that moment, many things change.
I know this from experience.
In 2004 in the Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Flames, we knew the Cup was in the building for Game 6. There are already a lot of distractions for every game, especially at home, including making sure about tickets for people. And in the playoffs, it's even more intense.
Video: How Vegas can erase a 3-1 Stanley Cup Final deficit
That day, I remember saying to my son, Adam, who was 5 at the time, that I wanted him to come down to the ice and hoist the Cup with me if we won.
Well, we didn't win the game. We came close; didn't get the call when Martin Gelinas looked like he might have gotten the puck across the line with six or seven minutes left for us to take the lead but Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin kicked the puck out, then Martin St. Louis scored for Tampa Bay in overtime.
My son was in tears after the game because he didn't understand why he wasn't going down to the ice with his dad.
It's another story about what happens, what can happen, when the Cup is in the building.
Vegas will know on Thursday the Cup isn't in the building for them and I doubt they have lost their sense of urgency.
This is uncharted territory for Washington. How will they respond?
So far, they have been an incredibly resilient team, better in this area probably than they've ever been before. Proof of that is if they can win the Cup, they will be the second team in NHL history to win it despite being behind in each of their four series. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins, in 1991, have accomplished that before.
I know the series is 3-1 for Washington at the moment. But I think it's been very tight.
There have been a lot of shots off the post that could have made a difference. Maybe in the first three rounds, post-and-in seemed to be a theme benefitting the Golden Knights and now it's been post-and-out for Neal and Jonathan Marchessault and a few others.
Video: Can Vegas keep their season alive with a Game 5 win?
In a game of inches, where a mere inch or two determines the outcomes of games, I'm not counting out Gerard Gallant and Fleury. I'd never bet against those guys.
I'm certain Vegas will give it their absolute best for Game 5. Maybe a call or two will go their way and maybe the post angles will change ever so slightly. There will be hype in the building.
Should the momentum start to shift Vegas' way, even slightly, in that Washington dressing room or on that bench, they'll look at each other and know how close they are to winning the Cup and they'll know they've prepared themselves to deal with "just another game" and that they're always prepared to deal with adversity, but when something as big as the Cup is there to be won, how will things go?
I believe it's still a series and I can't wait to find out how the players on each side will be thinking about it and how they'll react.
Stanley Cup Final Coverage
Golden Knights vs. Capitals
Stanley Cup Final Schedule