TORONTO -- In September, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock and Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz spent every day together talking hockey and working to help Team Canada win the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
Babcock, who guided Canada to the gold medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Olympics and won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, was the head coach and Trotz, the reigning Jack Adams Award winner, was one of his assistants. But they and Team Canada's other assistants (Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien and Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters) exchanged ideas openly and talked about their NHL teams.
So there was a lot of respect between the men before the Maple Leafs and the Capitals squared off in this Eastern Conference First Round series, which is tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 at Air Canada Centre on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, CSN-DC).
"He's done a real good job for a long time and he treats people and players right, which I think is important, and he's a great ambassador for the National Hockey League," Babcock said of Trotz on Sunday. "In saying that, he wants to win and I want to win. So he's going to do what he has to do with his group and I'm going to do what I have to do with my group."
That means putting aside their friendship and using whatever information they have to help their teams.
"He knows a lot about our team and I know a lot about his team as well," Trotz said.
Babcock knows well the pressure that is on Trotz and the Capitals. The Capitals have won the Presidents' Trophy in consecutive seasons and are one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, but they also have a history of disappointments to overcome. They haven't advanced past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1998, when they made their lone appearance in the Stanley Cup Final and were swept by the Red Wings.
For all the success Trotz, 54, has had in his three seasons with the Capitals and 15 before that with the Nashville Predators, ranking sixth in NHL history with 713 wins, he has never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
Babcock, 53, won the Stanley Cup once and coached in the Stanley Cup Final two other times. He also knows the expectations that come with the Presidents' Trophy and how they can turn against a team.
In Babcock's first season in Detroit in 2005-06, the Red Wings won the Presidents' Trophy and were upset by the Edmonton Oilers in six games in the first round of the playoffs. Now Babcock is trying to convince his talented but inexperienced Maple Leafs, who earned the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, that they can do the same thing.
He also hasn't missed an opportunity to remind the Capitals of how it can all go wrong.
"I've lived both situations," Babcock said. "I've lived where you're the underdog and you're not supposed to win and I've lived where you're the best team in hockey and you're supposed to win and they're totally different. People can tell you they're not. I've lived it. They're different."
After the Maple Leafs evened the series with a 4-3 double overtime win in Game 2 on Saturday, part of Trotz's job is to try and keep this players in a positive frame of mind.
"We have a lot of belief," Trotz said. "There's a reason we won a lot of games over the past few years. There's a lot of belief in our room."
But the Maple Leafs, who had nine players make their playoff debut in Game 1, have belief in their room now, too. They have made it hard on the Capitals from the drop of the puck in Game 1, grabbing the lead 1:35 in. Although the Capitals came back to win 3-2 in overtime, they've led for a total of 3:19 in the first two games.
"Sometimes when you get ahead in games you zip the puck around and it looks like the other team is standing still," Babcock said. "If you can keep it tight against a high-octane team like that, the puck doesn't move the same and the game is tighter for them."
This is not the first time Trotz and Babcock have matched wits in the playoffs. As Presidents' Trophy winners in 2007-08, Babcock's Red Wings defeated Trotz's eighth-seeded Predators in six games in the Western Conference quarterfinals. In 2011-12, Trotz's fourth-seeded Predators knocked Babcock's fifth-seeded Red Wings out in five games in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
But their history dates farther than that. Born nine months apart, their paths first crossed when playing as teenagers in Saskatchewan.
Trotz, a Winnipeg, Manitoba, native, played for the Notre Dame Hounds and the Regina Pat Blues (1979-80) in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and later for the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League (1979-82). Babcock, a Saskatoon native, played for the Saskatoon Contacts in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League and later the Saskatoon Blades (1980-81) and Kelowna Wings (1982-83) in the Western Hockey League.
"I've known him for a hundred years," Babcock said. "I don't know how old he is … I can almost remember how old I am. But it's a long time. I mean, long time."
Trotz believes that knowing each other as well as they do can help, but said, ultimately, "It's the players that get it done."
"I've not made a save yet. … I haven't scored a goal yet. Neither has [Babcock]," Trotz said. "But we can just manage the situations with our groups, get the right personnel on at the right time and, hopefully, have an effect."
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