ARLINGTON, Va. -- Here we go again. Is there a Washington Capitals' fan out there that is really surprised?
Counting Game 7s, the Caps are staring elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the face for the seventh time in the last two years. They are 5-1 so far, and yes that is experience to draw from, coach Bruce Boudreau said on a quiet Sunday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
"We have to draw from it," Boudreau said. "It is capable of being done."
The hard part is the Capitals, who took Sunday off, have to win back-to-back elimination games against a team that has beaten them three times in a row. Pittsburgh holds a 3-2 edge in the series after Saturday's 4-3 overtime win and can clinch a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference Final Monday night at Mellon Arena (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS)
Last year, the Capitals won back-to-back games against Philadelphia before losing Game 7 at Verizon Center in overtime. Earlier in these playoffs, Washington won three straight after falling behind 3-1 to the New York Rangers.
"It's one game," forward David Steckel said. "If we want our season to be done, than there it is. Nobody on this team wants it to end. We all want to stay here and keep playing so that's what we have to do, that's the mentality we're going to take when we go in."
Boudreau and several Capitals felt they played their best game of the series Saturday, but there are still several areas to improve on, especially their play in the third period.
Washington started slow in Games 1 and 2, but dominated the third period and won both games. They've been outplayed in the third period in the last three games and are 0-3.
On Saturday, it was a 10-minute lapse that resulted in a pair of Pittsburgh goals on rookie Simeon Varlamov that turned a 2-1 Capitals' lead into a 3-2 deficit just 6:27 into the third.
Ruslan Fedotenko scored 51 seconds into the period on a one-timer from the top of the right circle after a drop pass from Evgeni Malkin. Less than six minutes later, Matt Cooke scored his first of the playoffs with a backhanded swipe at the puck from in-close on what was the second rebound of the sequence.
Malkin ended the game 3:28 into overtime when his attempted pass to Sidney Crosby was redirected into the net off of Tom Poti's stick.
"We knew (the Penguins) would come out and play as hard as they could because they had the most come-from-behind wins (11) in the NHL this year," Boudreau said. "Once they got the lead I thought we played a lot better and felt almost more comfortable coming from behind. Sometimes you get ahead and you get a little nervous and you play not to lose. In those situations you usually don't succeed."
There are still concerns over turnovers, especially from Mike Green, the Capitals' Norris Trophy finalist who also appears to play better in games when the Capitals are trailing, but unsettled when the game is tied or they have the lead.
Green is at his best when he's rushing the puck and trying to create offense. He scored 31 goals this year by doing that, but Boudreau hinted that Green has been reeled in a bit in the playoffs because defense is essential.
"It's easier when you're behind to go because if they score again it's not costing you the game," Boudreau said. "When you're ahead a goal or tied you're not going to play as footloose. If I say, 'Mike, you just rush the puck every chance you get,' they're going to get odd-man breaks and it might be when it's 0-0 in the middle of the second period."
The Capitals also need to find some secondary scoring again. Cooke, Fedotenko and Jordan Staal all scored in Game 5, but the Capitals only got goals from their top players, including two from Alex Ovechkin and one from Nicklas Backstrom.
Washington hasn't gotten a goal from its third line since David Steckel's in Game 2. They've gotten only one goal from a defenseman (Milan Jurcina) all series whereas the Penguins have gotten three (Mark Eaton, Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar).
"It would help," Boudreau said of getting secondary scoring. "We got it in the first couple of games and we won. They've got it in the last couple of games and they've won. Hopefully it's our turn."
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