Walton: Capitals bring 'closer's mentality' into Game 6

Chris Lingebach
April 22, 2019 - 7:00 pm
Capitals bring 'closer's mentality' into Game 6

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

John Walton expects the Capitals' Stanley Cup experience to play a major role in Game 6 of their first-round series against Carolina Monday night.

With the Hurricanes facing elimination after getting smoked 6-0 by the Caps in Game 5, Walton feels the experience Washington gained in closing teams out last season could prove pivotal.

"I think it's valuable," he told Chad Dukes Monday afternoon. "I mean, they're following a lot of the script from what we saw a year ago. I mean, it was a Game 6 on the road that they took out Columbus after some adversity early in the series. It was a little earlier in the Columbus series, but they ran into some here."

"They got buzzsawed in Game 3 and they lose Game 4," he said. "They've got that closer's mentality. It's funny, because there was a time really not all that long ago where, if the Capitals were coming into a Game 6 and they had a lead on the road, and you'd say, 'Well, is something gonna go wrong tonight? How is this gonna come back to Washington for a Game 7?' I sense none of that here."

"And I think this team, having did what it did last year and what they've done through the course of this series," he continued, "where I think they've gotten a little better, a little better, then maybe a little worse, but they've built to this point. And Carolina, at some juncture this evening, unless they've got a lead early... if Carolina gets the first goal and the Caps are playing from behind, it's gonna be a tight one tonight.

"But at some point, if the Caps get that first goal, there have been zero lead changes in this series. I have no reason to think that if the Caps got the first one tonight, that Carolina at some point, with all the injuries they've had, and there is a little bit of, hey, they're just happy to be here after not making the postseason for 10 years, and the Capitals looking for their fifth-straight series victory. You just want to make sure you've got that scale tipping the right way from a Washington standpoint, and no reason to think that it wouldn't happen as long as they got off to the start that they'd like to tonight."

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, playing in their 12th season together, have undergone almost a complete role reversal in their 11th postseason. Backstrom leads the Caps with five goals (with 3 assists), while Ovechkin has been feeding him the puck more often than not (3 goals, 4 assists). Backstrom has forever been the unsung hero on the Capitals living in Ovechkin's shadow.

"I think his just deserts will be when he goes to the Hall of Fame, quite honestly Chad," Walton said. "And I think that with a couple of more productive seasons, a Stanley Cup on his resume, and who knows, maybe another if the Caps can get on a roll here and try and replicate what they did last year. He's really getting into some rarified air as far as his numbers are concerned and I like what we've seen out of both he and Ovechkin this postseason.

"And I think we kind of saw it during the year, too, where the burden of being asked all the time, up until this year, 'Hey, are you guys ever gonna get over the hump? Are you ever gonna win a Stanley Cup?' They are almost playing, I feel, with a looser, more confident – I think they're having fun!"

"I think Backstrom and Ovechkin together," he continued. "I mean here's Alex that's doing more of the passing than the shooting on that line at this point, and Nicky's got five goals. It's tied for the most he's ever had in a playoff series. If he gets one tonight, it will truly be the most productive playoff series in goal-scoring he's ever had."

"I really like the atmosphere," he said. "I've liked it all year, but I think it's more prevalent, now that these guys are just, I don't want to say playing with house money, because they want to win just as badly now as they did before. But they're not being asked that question at every turn. It's like, 'Oh boy, Washington. The choke artists. They can't get over the hump. They can't get it done.'

"Well, they got it done. And now they're just playing, and they seem to be having as much fun as they've ever had together."

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter