Jaromir Jagr skated in front of Washington Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig at practice yesterday and batted a flying puck into the net. As Jagr skated away, he looked back at Kolzig. The two exchanged playful looks, then Jagr began to giggle so hard his shoulder pads shook.
It was the same kind of unusual play on which Robert Lang had scored the Caps' first goal in Washington's first-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now, it looks like a set play.
"Nah, not a set play," Caps coach Bruce Cassidy said and then paused. "Well, I don't think it is, but with those guys, who knows?"
The Caps, leading their best-of-seven series 2-0, are feeling it as they head into Game 3 at MCI Center tonight.
Life is good. But there is wariness, too.
Game 2 was no sooner over in Tampa on Saturday than Cassidy began cautioning his team about sticking to the game plan and keeping its play simple.
"It won't be easy to get the message through," he said. "But we'll keep pushing it."
Yesterday, Cassidy noted his team played well in the neutral zone, made wise decisions with the puck and turned it over less than a handful of times.
"When we make conscious decisions to dump the puck when we don't have speed or numbers, we've done our job and forced Tampa Bay to go 200 feet with the puck, and that's not their strength."
Cassidy said he was pleased with the way the Caps performed, but still worried about how they might play at home against the Lightning, a team that has not won in Washington in 11 games, dating to 1998.
"When you come home and you're up and we're scoring goals and maybe we're thinking we can throw the puck around through the neutral zone and make nice plays," Cassidy said. "You can get caught up in that. You want to impress the crowd. When you're at home, you always want to do a little more. On the road, you don't mind winning ugly.
"We'd like to keep that [road] attitude. Let's win any way we can. If that means being tight early on and the crowd not being on its feet, then that's what we have to live with. ... We've won a certain way the last two games and played a certain way the last six weeks of the year.
"That will be our focus in the pre-game pep talk. We won a certain way; let's not get away from it just because we've moved two hours north."
The Caps have been brilliant on offense and defense in their first two playoff games. Peter Bondra, Jagr, Lang and Michael Nylander each have two goals against the Lightning's Nikolai Khabibulin. Washington's defense, with Kolzig in the net, has also been outstanding.
Washington, of course, has played this way in the regular season, too, only to get too full of itself and stumble. Captain Steve Konowalchuk, who sets the tone for the Caps on the checking line with Jeff Halpern and Mike Grier, knows his team's history. He said he isn't too concerned about Cassidy's fears.
"I'm guessing that's aimed at our big goal scorers - Jags and Langer," Konowalchuk said. "But we played those guys for years in the playoffs when they were with Pittsburgh, and they were as defensive as any team could possibly be."
Grier added: "I think everyone has been fully committed to defense first. ... It's tough for some guys to do it though a season, and you can't blame the goal scorers for that. They're who they are because they play their offensive game. ... But, at this time of year, everyone is aware that every team that has won the [Stanley] Cup lately has done it with defense."
Bondra remembers the lessons learned about defense and patience in the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997-98. A lesson, he said, that was taught again in 2000-01, by the Penguins with Jagr and Lang.
"The key is discipline," Bondra said. "Don't take bad penalties. Don't give them a chance to get into the series. When you run around and try to do excess stuff, you are not helping.
"The last time we played postseason, we lost close games to Pittsburgh. First game, 1-0; second game, 2-1. In those games, and especially in games 5, 6 and 7, they played defense first and out-patienced us. And, at the end, they scored. You have to play defense and have the juice at the end."