Oates gives Caps unexpected day off
NEW YORK – Adam Oates and the Capitals had a contingency plan in place for Tuesday.
With Madison Square Garden occupied by the New York Knicks for their NBA playoff game Tuesday night, the Caps planned on practicing at Prudential Center in Newark in advance of Wednesday night’s Game 4 against the Rangers.
But after seeing his team lose Game 3 in a physically and emotionally draining 4-3 defeat that cut the Capitals’ lead in the series to two games to one, Oates decided a day of rest was in order. So instead of lugging his players and more than a thousand pounds of equipment through rush-hour traffic on Tuesday, Oates told his players to enjoy a sunny day off in Manhattan.
“Rest is the most important weapon right now,” Oates told reporters outside the team's hotel. “Every game is stressful and any time you have a chance to let the guys not deal with the stress we’ll give them that opportunity.”
Oates said the team did not get back to its hotel until 1 a.m. on Tuesday. So while the Capitals coaching staff spends it afternoon reviewing video of Monday night’s loss, Oates said he wanted his players to spend their afternoon chilling before gathering for a 6 p.m. team dinner.
"It’s a little bit of a surprise,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. “As Oatesy put it to us, it was a pretty emotional game last night. He wanted us to be able to clear our heads, just relax a little bit and come back with fresh minds and fresh legs tomorrow."
Brouwer said he planned on taking a walk to the Hudson River waterfront and maybe take in a pickup basketball game, or do some shopping.
He said the team was pretty down and disappointed about allowing the Rangers back into the series Monday night, but by Tuesday the players were more optimistic.
“Having breakfast with the guys on the 46th floor and being able to see the entire city, our spirits are up right now,” Brouwer said from a courtyard outside the team’s hotel. “We know it’s only one game. We know we still have the lead in the series and we’re excited about the challenge of playing tomorrow night.”
The Caps expect to have veteran defenseman John Erskine in the lineup on Wednesday night. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound veteran missed a few shifts late in the first period and early in the second after taking a big body check from Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.
Oates said he was worried that the 32-year-old defenseman suffered a head injury on the play, but Erskine passed a baseline test during the game and was cleared to return.
“It was good to see him come back,” Brouwer said. “He looked a little shaken up after it happened. Ersk is a tough guy and he’s going to come back and play hard.
“That’s who he is. That’s one of the guys they’re going to target because he plays quite a few minutes for us. To get him back is a relief. Hopefully, he’s clearing his head and having some fun today.”
It will be interesting to see the mindset the Caps carry into Wednesday’s Game 4. Two years ago they won the first two games in Washington, lost Game 3 in New York and finished off the Rangers in five games.
Caps goalie Braden Holtby told reporters on Monday that he thought his teammates might have been a little too loose prior to Game 3.
Brouwer downplayed that assessment on Tuesday.
“We're always fairly loose,” he said. “We're a loose bunch. We love playing hockey, we enjoy the game. We're very thankful for what we do, but there's a fine line that we have to walk.
“I thought at the beginning of the game, we came out hard and we had a good start. We scored a goal [4:06 into the game] and put ourselves in good position. I don't know if I would say it was too loose, but it's definitely part of our team identity to enjoy the game and have fun."