WASHINGTON - Hard to blame Capitals forward Brooks Laich — or anyone who played in Washington's three-overtime loss to the New York Rangers — for wanting to catch up on sleep.
While dozing, Laich wound up having quite a nightmare.
"I woke up, and for some reason, I thought the season was over. I had a deep sleep — I had a long deep sleep — and I thought the season was over," Laich recounted Friday. "And then it refreshed in my mind that we only lost one hockey game, that it's 2-1. We're still in a good position."
Yes, Brooks, a team needs to win four games to end a series, so there's more hockey to be played between the Capitals and Rangers, starting with Game 4 at Washington on Saturday. Top-seeded New York holds that 2-1 lead Laich reminded himself about, thanks to a 2-1 victory in Wednesday's extra-long contest.
"Your morale is certainly a notch up after winning a game of that length, rather than losing," Rangers centre John Mitchell said. "That is important for our team."
Rangers coach John Tortorella used fewer players for more minutes apiece than Washington coach Dale Hunter, who spread ice time out more evenly among a larger group in Game 3.
Tortorella bristled Friday at a question about his team rebounding physically from the fatigue, saying: "We're not tired. ... This isn't a tired team. Like I said yesterday, we have no chance if we ..." He cut himself off there, then added: "I'll just leave it at that. We're fine."
The Capitals, meanwhile, are hoping to continue a pattern: They haven't lost two consecutive games in more than a month.
That consistency allowed Washington to make a late-season push to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 7-seeded team in the East. It also let the Capitals come back to eliminate the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round after trailing that series 2-1.
"We're mentally tougher. We've talked a lot about the adversity we've gone through throughout the course of the season. When things are getting tough on us as a group, we stick to our systems well," forward Matt Hendricks said. "We don't deviate away from them, the way we used to, where we'd get down a goal or two and we'd get 'individual.' We'd try to do things on our own. (Now) we're relying on our system, on our teammates, and it's benefiting us."
Coach Dale Hunter, who replaced the fired Bruce Boudreau in November, has managed to get players to focus more on defence and on shot-blocking, on conservative and possession-protecting offence.
"We bounce back. Six weeks ago we needed to win. We couldn't have a losing streak or we wouldn't be playing right now," Hunter said. "We'll be fine" on Saturday.
After repeated earlier-than-expected exits from the playoffs following fantastic regular seasons — including four consecutive division titles — Washington is hanging around against higher-seeded teams in close-as-can-be games.
Nine of the Capitals' 10 playoff games have been decided by one goal.
Five have gone to overtime.
"It keeps you in the game. It keeps you always intense. It keeps you right in the moment. Little mistakes cost you. It's fun to play in those kind of games. Those are the games you want to play in," forward Jason Chimera said. "I won't lie to you: It would be nice to go out and get a 5-0 lead in the first period and kind of ride it. But I don't anticipate those kind of games."
Notes: Both teams practiced for about 45 minutes Friday. ... About a half-dozen Rangers players went to Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday's day off. "The tombstones never ended. It just puts things into perspective. All the reporters saying it was an 'epic war' and an 'epic' (Game 3), and then you go look at something like that and see the battles that have been fought by our troops. Those are the real soldiers that fight for our freedoms. It was a pretty good experience," defenceman Ryan McDonagh said Friday. ... Everyone participated in New York's practice except C Brandon Dubinsky (right foot injury) and LW Mats Zuccarello (left wrist injury). ... F Cody Eakin, recently brought up from the minors, didn't skate in Washington's practice.
Freelance writers David Elfin in Arlington, Va., and Benjamin Standig in Washington contributed to this report.