ARLINGTON, Va. — It’s enough of a shock that the Capitals take the ice at Capital One Arena Tuesday night with a 2-0 series lead over the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals. It’s even more shocking that, for the first time in the postseason, Las Vegas has made the Capitals the favorites to win the Stanley Cup .
How they’ve managed to do this much and get this far with so many missing pieces every night, including in this series, is even more stunning.
Or, maybe not so stunning.
“Our depth is a lot deeper than a lot of people gave us credit for,’’ forward T.J. Oshie said after the Caps’ morning skate at their practice facility. “(With) people getting hurt, guys are stepping into big roles, and they’re seizing that moment. They wait all year to get their one shot to jump in.’’
Nicklas Backstrom was expected to miss his fourth straight game Tuesday, and it’s a testament to how well his teammates have played in his absence that coach Barry Trotz is in absolutely no hurry to rush him back. They’re already in as enviable a position as there is: since 1975, teams with 2-0 leads in a conference finals or semifinals are 39-2.
The Capitals have also played without Andre Burakovsky for the last four games of their first-round win over the Blue Jackets and the entire Penguins series, while Tom Wilson was suspended for Games 4-6 against the Penguins.
They have yet to lose with Backstrom out, went 8-2 without Burakovsky and were 2-1 against the Penguins without both Wilson and Burakovsky.
All three were out for the Game 6 series clincher in Pittsburgh, the 2-1 overtime win that not only immortalized Evgeny Kuznestov, but may well have overturned the team’s faint-of-heart postseason rep — largely because they overcame that many missing key players.
“We’ve had adversity all year, right from the start of the season, little things here and there,’’ Wilson said Tuesday. “It’s created a close bond, it’s created a close group of guys. We’re having more fun when we’re winning, and we know we have to do the little things, we have to take care of the details.’’
Oshie pointed at the example set by the stars and acknowledged leaders — Alex Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson — but also noted that the role players, particularly at Backstrom’s center position, have not flinched when the opportunity arose.
“Look at Lars (Eller),’’ he said, speaking of the center who scored in each of the first two games against the Lightning. “A great player for us all year, but you got two world-class centermen in front of him. Nick gets hurt, he steps into that spot and he’s doing a great job there. You can kind of go through the lineup and find guys like that.’’