The smiling side of a handshake line at the end of the second round was a brand-new experience for Alex Ovechkin and Barry Trotz.
Ovechkin received a message of good luck and a pat on the chest from Sidney Crosby Michael Pierce Jersey , while Trotz got to enjoy a happy moment with longtime coaching friend Jacques Martin. Ovechkin acknowledged he’d been in that position a lot of times – though never as the one moving on to the third round.
The Washington Capitals reaching the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 1998 is perhaps most special to the superstar captain and his coach who had never made it out of the second round before. No coach in NHL history had been behind the bench for more games than Trotz and no active player had been in as many playoff games as Ovechkin without reaching the conference finals.
”There is a kinship there, there’s no question,” Trotz said. ”I’ve been at this for a while and it’s so hard to move forward sometimes. It’s always thrown in your face everywhere your turn. I know it’s thrown in Ovi’s face everywhere he turns, and he’s a great player in this league. … I knew the frustration because you’re so close and you just can’t get it, and you just got to stay with it.”
After 51 playoff games together, Ovechkin and Trotz will take part in their first East final starting Friday night in Tampa Bay against the Lightning. Now that they’ve gotten over a hump that defined their respective careers, Ovechkin, Trotz and the Capitals are in unfamiliar territory.
”It’s something new for us and cool,” Ovechkin said Wednesday, less than 48 hours after Washington eliminated the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. ”Right now it’s just satisfaction we beat the Stanley Cup champions finally and we move forward and now we’re going to play against a very good team Adrian Phillips Jersey , against very good goaltending and solid players over there.”
The Atlantic Division-champion Lightning present a formidable challenge, but the Capitals had to overcome something altogether different after losing in the first or second round in all nine playoff appearances that have come during the Ovechkin era dating to 2008. Beating the rival Penguins in overtime in a Game 6 on the road made the breakthrough even more emotional.
”We should be proud of that,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. ”It’s a big achievement. But I think we’ve got to be greedy. We’ve got to want more because this is a heck of a run. I don’t know if there is a group out there that knows how hard it is to get to this point.”
The Capitals are at this point with Ovechkin on top of his game with eight goals and seven assists, his best playoff output since 2009. And they’re here in large part because of Trotz, a well-respected, 19-year NHL coach who does not have a contract for next season.
”I had a summer which was very enlightening to me, and I just look at everything way differently than I ever have,” Trotz said. ”I just recognized that I can only control what I can control, and the other stuff I can’t.”
Trotz can’t control upper-body injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky or a three-game suspension handed out to winger Tom Wilson, only the decisions he makes in replacing them. So far Daniel Kilgore Jersey , Trotz has pushed the right buttons, like putting Braden Holtby back in net in Game 2 of the first round and promoting Jakub Vrana to the top line in Game 5 against Pittsburgh.
His players know Trotz is in control as he and the Capitals advance further into the spring than they have in 20 years.
”He wants to win a Cup,” forward Chandler Stephenson said. ”He doesn’t want to make it past the second round. It’s obviously a little accomplishment, a little confidence-boost. But we’re not done yet. We’re only halfway.”
AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed.
Rockets star Chris Paul is receiving treatment ”around the clock” on his injured right hamstring and coach Mike D’Antoni hopes it will only be a matter of days before he is healthy enough to play again.
The timeline remained unclear whether Paul might be fine to play a possible Game 7 if the Rockets lost Saturday night’s Game 6 and had to return to Houston to face the Golden State Warriors again Monday night. Eric Gordon started in Paul’s place Saturday at Oracle Arena.
”I think he’ll play as soon as he can,” D’Antoni said before the game Saturday. ”It’s just not a question of trying to outsmart. He’s going to play. As soon as he’s able to walk and run, he’ll do it. There was no shot at it today.”
Golden State forward Andre Iguodala was out for a third straight game this series after he sustained a bone bruise in his left knee during Game 3. Coach Steve Kerr said Iguodala continues to have pain when running, so he’s still listed as day to day.
”It’s a bone bruise, and those are hard to predict,” Kerr said. ”Until he’s able to really run without pain, then he can’t play.”
Paul’s presence at Oracle Arena still meant plenty.
”He’s devastated. He has to be. We’re all devastated for him. At the same time Tony Gonzalez Jersey , we’ll rally and do what’s right,” D’Antoni said. ”He’s so integral in what we do and the spirit of the team. And him being here is a big deal, and him being on the bench is a big deal. He’ll will us through, if he can.”
Kerr felt terribly for Paul – and others who have gone down.
”More than anything, I feel bad for Chris. The guy is a phenomenal player and competitor, and pretty much willed his team the last two games. He’s just been haunted by these types of injuries in his career, and it’s a shame,” Kerr said.
”I hate when anybody gets hurt. I hate when Andre got hurt. I hate to see Kevin Love last night, Kyrie (Irving). These guys train so hard and they’re here and they’re competing, and you want everybody to be healthy Danny Etling Jersey , but just the reality is it usually doesn’t work out that way. So you’ve just got to keep playing with whoever’s there and keep going.”
Second-year Golden State guard Patrick McCaw, who had been out since a scary back injury at Sacramento on March 31 when undercut by Vince Carter, was available to play after earlier being upgraded to questionable. He wasn’t expected to contribute key minutes given the injury and time missed.
”It would be a tough spot to put him in, in the meat of the game, with not having played for a long time. But at this point, it’s all hands on deck, obviously,” Kerr said. ”You never know how the game’s going to play out. I had teammates who literally played one play in a playoff game and made a play and helped us win a game. So you just never know.”
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