ARLINGTON, Va. -- After winning Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal-round series against the New York Rangers, many of the questions directed at members of the Washington Capitals the past two days have been about the past.
The Capitals have a 3-1 lead in the series, and the franchise has a long and sordid history when it comes to holding a two-game lead in the postseason. A lot of the bad memories come from the 1980s and 1990s, but Washington has also held a two-game lead in each of the past two postseason series it was a part of (2-0 on Pittsburgh in 2009, 3-1 on Montreal in 2010) and has failed to advance.
That said, there are several new faces in the Capitals dressing room, and maybe it will be the new guys who can help the club forget about past struggles.
"Everybody goes through certain things in their career. Everybody always looks back," Jason Arnott said. "For this team, we can't look back. We've got to look forward and we've got to get ready for tomorrow and put the past behind us."
Arnott is one of the veteran players Washington general manager George McPhee has acquired since the Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy last season but bowed in in the first round after dropping three straight games to the Canadiens. McPhee has also added veteran defensemen Scott Hannan and Dennis Wideman in trades, claimed forward Marco Sturm on waivers, signed Matt Hendricks as a free agent and elevated rookies Marcus Johansson and Michal Neuvirth to full-time roles.
It could be that infusion of experience and youth, combined with the lessons learned for the core group of players, that ultimately helps Washington move past this hurdle that could be as much psychological as it is physical.
"Different things," Sturm said about what the "new guys" can do to help. "First of all on the ice, maybe some of us who came in new have played a long time and how we play on the ice, especially on the defensive side. There's a lot of talking too -- like [Arnott] has mentioned a lot of things and that's pretty good."
These players have all had an impact on the club already this season. Hendricks injected plenty of grit and energy, making the team despite coming to camp on a tryout contract, and has been a vocal leader despite his relative lack of NHL experience for his age.
Hannan, after an adjustment period that coincided with arriving just as the team went into an eight-game losing streak, has been the effective defense-first guy this group has lacked in previous seasons.
"He's been fabulous," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's such a steady player and he knows how to play the game. He's not a great offensive player or anything but positionally, knowledge, calming effect -- Scott has been super this year.
"We know he talks on the bench and on the ice. Coaches love guys who communicate on the ice -- not enough of them do. Some guys are just naturally quiet, but Scotty is a real general-type guy out there. He's not trash-talking, he's a helpful talker."
Arnott immediately became one of the top voices in the dressing room when he was acquired at the trade deadline. One of only two players on the team who owns a Stanley Cup ring (Mike Knuble is the other), players have gushed about how much they respect him and listen intently when he speaks.
While this group of Capitals have had their struggles in the playoffs, Arnott can relate from his early days with New Jersey. The Devils lost in the first round of the playoffs in his first two seasons with the team before capturing the Stanley Cup in his third year.
"Those first few years before we won we were put out in the first round and it's tough," Arnott said. "It's tough not to think about it. It's a monkey on your back that you want off, but for the most part the guys are young in here, they're hungry, they really want to win, and that's what they've got to think about -- the result and moving forward."
Arnott has even had an effect on his coach. The 36-year-old admitted Friday that he did indeed try to calm Boudreau down when the coach was arguing with an official during Game 4.
"He wants to pump us up as well and he played the game before. He gets emotional," Arnott said. "We all do. If we don't get a call or things happen in a game, it gets you into the game. That's the way he is.
"You'd have to say something pretty devastating I think as a coach to get a minor as a coach in the playoffs. The heated battles between coaches and refs are great. That's the way it was in the old times before and that's the way it should be. It's an emotional game and heated game and the coaches are just as involved as we are. It's exciting. It gets you energized, gets you into the game."
Even the young guys have had a dramatic impact, especially in this series. Neuvirth has outplayed Henrik Lundqvist -- and that's an area the Rangers probably expected to have an advantage in. Johansson has been Washington's best center for much of the series, and he's been their best forward for parts of it as well.
Core guys like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Brooks Laich have been through the disappointments of the past three years and they will be eager to advance in a series without needing seven games for the first time in their careers. If it happens, there is a good chance some of the guys who haven't been in Washington for the past disappointments will have played a part in helping them do it.
"You've got to win the last one. It's not what happens in the first few games, it's what happens in the last one. We know we gotta come out here on Saturday and play a big game," Hannan said. "We know these are the tough ones to win; you've got to seal a team out when you're given the chance. We know it's a big game coming in here, we gotta take the energy from our building we know we're gonna have and play the way we know we can. When we play the way we can, we're a pretty tough team to beat."