WASHINGTON, D.C. - Brooks Laich snapped out of a deep sleep Thursday morning -- OK, late Thursday morning -- probably thinking there was so much to do.
Like cleaning out his cubicle.
Like polishing his golf clubs and setting up tee times.
Like looking into off-season vacations.
Because, for one split-second, as he wiped the sleep out of his eyes, Laich actually thought this was the off-season already.
It was an easy mistake to make. Hours earlier, just before the clock had struck 1 a.m. on Thursday, Laich and his Washington Capitals had lost a gut-wrenching 2-1 decision in triple overtime at the Verizon Center, a demoralizing defeat that easily could have sucked the enthusiasm out of his team.
"I woke up and for some reason I thought the season was over," Laich told Washington reporters after the Caps workout in Arlington, Va. "I had a deep sleep, I had a long, deep sleep and I thought the season was over."
Then came the revelation.
Other than that one particular game, painful as it might be, nothing is officially over.
All it will take is a win in Game 4 Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Center, and suddenly the Caps will be all even in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal with the New York Rangers.
Those thoughts flooded through Laich's mind once he realized the season had not come to an end.
"Then it refreshed in my mind that ... it's 2-1. We're still in a good position."
A loss in Game 4 wouldn't be the end of the Caps season either but, truth be told, this game will be as close to a must-win as you'll find. True, the Caps did come back from a 3-1 disadvantage with three consecutive wins to eliminate the Rangers in 2009, but does anyone truly like the chances of history repeating itself against Vezina Trophy favourite Henrik Lundqvist?
It would be a tall task, that's for sure.
"It would be nice to make it go at least six," Caps forward Mike Knuble said. "I don't think there's any way around that. It's a big game. It's a lot different being 2-2 versus down 3-1."
One of the things the Caps have going for them is their own goaltender, Braden Holtby. The rookie has gone 26 games without losing two in a row, a streak that dates back 18 months to November 2010.
Holtby has been virtually unflappable during these playoffs, his remarkable composure on display for all to see during the Caps' 2-1 overtime victory in Game 7 of the opening-round series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
Perhaps the fact there has been an extra off-day between Games 3 and 4 will be a factor, too. Associate goaltending coach Olaf Kolzig feels it could be a positive for Holtby and his teammates.
"The good thing is they got two days between games so that the emotional benefit you get out of it both ways won't be as significant as if we were playing (Friday) night," Kolzig said.
"(The Rangers') high will come down a little bit, our low will come up a little bit and both teams will be re-energized and rested."
Under coach Dale Hunter's reign, the Caps have been no stranger to close games. Nine of their 10 playoff games have been won by one goal, the exception being the Rangers' 3-1 victory in Game 1.
"Everybody wants to win," captain Alex Ovechkin told the Washington media. "(Saturday) it's the kind of game we have to win and go to New York and play out there with a fresh mind and know it's not going to be ending."
Otherwise, Brooks Laich's nightmare will, in fact, be one step closer to turning into reality.