Adam Oates’ answer was a terse and definitive, “No.”
The question was whether left wing Brooks Laich would be in the lineup for the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Capitals and New York Rangers.
Was there even the possibility?
“No,” Oates repeated.
Laich, 29, has been rehabbing his way back from a groin-related procedure he underwent last month. He reported significant progress over the weekend, but if Laich returns to the Capitals during the playoffs, it will need to wait at least until Round 2.
If the Caps can finish off the Rangers tonight at Verizon Center, they likely will begin the second round at home on Wednesday night against the winner of tonight’s Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Any time you get a player of that magnitude back it’s a big lift for the team,” Capitals left wing Jason Chimera said before Monday’s game.
“Obviously, he’s a big part of our team,” Eric Fehr said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen but he’s a good leader for us.”
In all fairness, Chimera and Fehr had more on their minds than the recovery of Laich. The buzzword inside and outside of the Caps’ locker room two hours before tonight’s 8 p.m. puck drop was “discipline.”
The Caps have taken 62 minutes in penalties in the first six games of the series, while the Rangers have taken 38. The Caps have killed off 24 of the Rangers’ 26 power plays, while scoring on three of their 14 attempts.
In the Caps’ 1-0 loss Sunday in Game 6 three of the Caps’ seven penalties were retaliatory.
“We don’t want to create a power play war,” Chimera said. “There’s a line you can play on without getting those penalties. Some calls, the refs make mistakes, just like we do. But if you get hit you can’t retaliate. You can’t do dumb stuff like run guys and punch them in the head.”
Oates said it’s impossible to expect his players to treat tonight like any other game.
“It’s Game 7 and the finality of it is obviously important,” he said. “We’re going to talk about trying to control our emotions. It’s our crowd, it’s going to be exciting and you’ve got to be able to take that energy in and just control yourself.
“It’s going to affect [the Rangers], too. The team that handles those moments and the adversity the best will come out on top.”