The national media was seated in a room off the ice at Piney Orchard. Members had come looking for a team in turmoil, a team second-guessing itself after having gone down 2-0 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals that resume tonight at the MCI Center in Washington.
The media did not find what it was looking for.
Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson stepped behind the mike and began to speak.
"What's this?" he said. "Am I supposed to do a stand-up routine?"
Certainly, this was not routine.
It was another almost unheard-of move by Wilson. Thursday night, his Caps became the first team in 42 years to lose a Finals game after leading by two goals in the third period.
It was a stat that evoked a "Wow!" from team captain Dale Hunter, but little else, as the team chewed on the fact that since the best-of-seven format was installed, only three teams had rallied to win the Cup after losing the first two games.
Now Wilson was responding not by cracking the whip, but by giving his team the day off.
"I hope if they're doing anything, they're looking in the mirror
and contemplating what they have to do to win," Wilson said. "I was very disappointed with some of our players. We've got to get more offense. Our best line was the Dale Hunter-Craig Berube-Chris Simon line. They made Detroit very uncomfortable. We need more of that from our other lines."
Yesterday, only six Caps were at the team's practice facility. Four of them -- veterans Hunter, Mike Eagles, Mark Tinordi and Phil Housley -- had brought their children to skate. Todd Krygier came for treatment, and Andrei Nikolishin was working on his sticks.
"You've got to keep your perspective," said Eagles, as he helped his sons put on their skates. "This is still a kid's game. Of course we're disappointed about Game 2, but we're still not out of it. They won their two home games. Now we've got to win ours. It's not an impossible situation."
Wilson agreed. He said his players have to be willing to pay a bigger price. He said they let themselves down in Game 2, blowing that 4-2 lead in the third and that they have to stop making the "soft mistakes," stop giving the puck away, stop allowing the Red Wings into their zone and keep them away from the net where they create screens on goaltender Olie Kolzig.
Later, Tinordi would add another must stop to the list. The Caps must stop letting down once they get a lead.
"We definitely have to play better with the lead," Tinordi said. "It's definitely an old habit returning. We lost the battles along the boards. We sat back and tried not to get scored on instead of continuing to go forward.
"We learned a lesson. They're the champions. They're going to keep coming at us and we've got to keep going at them."
The Caps' failure to make the sacrifices they needed to make when leading the game is what bothered Wilson most.
"This is the ultimate test," Wilson said. "And it's pretty obvious we have to hold our serve at home. We've played 45 or 50 minutes of each game we've played. But at times we've let our guard down."
The Caps also ran into trouble defensively in Game 2 when Wilson shortened his bench because of another head injury to defenseman Jeff Brown, who already has missed two months with post-concussion syndrome.
Brown, who had assists on two of the Caps' four goals, was hit during the second period and became nauseated and unable to play. Detroit coach Scotty Bowman noticed Wilson's moves to keep Tinordi, Calle Johansson, Joe Reekie and Sergei Gonchar on the ice and immediately sent his team on the attack.
Brown likely will miss tonight's game and perhaps the rest of the series. Ken Klee or Brendan Witt will enter the lineup.
Wilson, meanwhile, was not ready to give an inch to the Red Wings in terms of advantage in this series.
"The Red Wings kicked it up a notch [late in Game 2], and we should have been icing the puck and making it harder for them to play," he said. "But by no means is this series over. If I was Detroit, I'd be a little nervous."
Then he concentrated on the positives.
"One thing is for sure: We can't blow a 3-1 lead [in the series, as the franchise has done in the past]," he said. "It's impossible. That's a positive. Maybe we should go down 3-1 and come back. Maybe that's the way to do it and get rid of all our demons forever.
"Heck, we could turn around and win four in a row ourselves."
That statement brought chuckles, comedy routine or not.
The 2-0 hole
Since the Stanley Cup Finals went to a best-of-seven format in 1939, teams losing the first two games have gone on to lose the series 92.3 percent of the time. Three teams have overcome a 2-0 deficit to win the Cup:
Year Team Opponent
1942 Toronto Detroit
1966 Montreal Detroit
1971 Montreal* Chicago
*-Lost first two on road
Stanley Cup Finals Washington vs. Detroit
(Detroit leads 2-0)
Date Res./Site ..... Time TV
Gm 1 Detroit, 2-1
Gm 2 Detroit, 5-4**
Today at Wash. ......8 ESPN
Tue. at Wash. .......8 ESPN
Thu. at Det. ........8* Fox
6/20 at Wash. .......8* ESPN
6/23 at Det. ........8* Fox
*-If necessary; **-overtime
Pub Date: 6/13/98