The Washington Capitals are up against in, facing elimination as they trail the Florida Panthers 3-2 in their series heading into Game 6 Friday night.
During an appearance with The Sports Junkies Friday morning — driven by Dulles Motorcars — Capitals center Lars Eller was asked if he typically gets more nerves before an elimination game or, with so much playoff experience, he's used to it by now.
"It's kind of both, really," Eller said. "I've been down [this road] many times before, but you do get butterflies. You do get, your emotions are a little bit more ramped up than usual. You are a little bit more nervous. But you're supposed to, I think. It would be weird if you didn't have that. It's gonna help you take your game to the next level and you've got to be emotionally invested when you play these games."
"Either you're gonna freeze or you're gonna fly," he said. "And you better be flying."
The Caps looked to be in the driver's seat of Game 5 in Florida, with a 3-0 lead in the second period before giving up five unanswered goals, resulting in a 5-3 loss. Eller was asked if there was something about their approach that changed that could have given way to such a dramatic momentum change.
"It's not something we talk about and say, 'Okay, now we're up 2-nothing,' or 'we're up 3' and 'now we're gonna do this differently.' You know, we're not trying to, it just sort of happens," he said. "That being said, you're playing such good teams that when... you're not gonna be able to keep them from getting chances throughout 60 minutes.
"They are gonna get some looks; you're gonna try to keep it to a minimum. And we just didn't do a good enough job of that yesterday. I don't like how it played out. I like certain parts of how we played that game, but not that second half of the second period."
Asked if one positive bounce of the puck in the Caps' favor could have shifted the momentum of Game 5 back in their direction, Eller replied, "Of course it could, but it didn't."
"And those are the bounces of a playoff series in hockey, and it's gonna go back and forth, and it's probably gonna go back and forth tonight as well," he elaborated. "And you have to hang on to that momentum as long as you possibly can, and then when it does switch, you have to get it back quickly. It's sort of like puck possession. It's really not that much different. And then when you do get looks, you have to capitalize on them."
Eller doesn't make too much of fan and media-driven narratives surrounding the Caps, a mindset that was cemented for him when Washington won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
"I think it's normal for people to talk about, to have something to analyze, and probably they overanalyze a little bit and they get emotional about it," he said. "But for us, I've been in it for so long, it's just the swings of a series. And now we're down. We're down for the first time in the series, 3-2, but the year we won [the Stanley Cup] we were also down in every series and we battled back."
"Sometimes it adds a little bit more urgency to your game and some more will, and you dig a little bit deeper and you've got to work for the luck," he continued. "Maybe we're gonna get a little bit more lucky tonight if we work a little bit harder, and some puck is gonna go post-and-in instead of post-and-out, and that's the game. I have all the confidence in the world. Everybody in our room believes that we can win tonight and that's really the only thing that matters today."