May 23 vs. Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena, Game 5
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBCSW, NBCSN
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 99.1 FM
Boston leads series, 3-1
Following a fruitless trip to Boston that left them in a 3-1 series hole in their first-round, best-of-seven set against the Bruins, the Caps are back home to host a must win Game 5 in Washington on Sunday night.
For the first three games of this series, very little separated the Caps and the Bruins. Washington won the series opener in overtime here last Saturday, and the Bruins evened the series with an overtime win of their own in Game 2, a contest in which the Caps held a one-goal lead with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
Washington again owned a third-period lead in Wednesday's Game 3 in Boston, but again the Bruins rallied to win - this time in double overtime - to take a 2-1 series lead. Boston's Game 3 victory put increased significance and importance on Game 4 for the Capitals.
But the Caps played poorly from the outset of Friday's Game 4 and were never able to get on track. Although goaltender Ilya Samsonov kept Boston off the board in the first period and the Caps entered the third down just 1-0, they fell 4-1 and are now in a 3-1 ditch in the series.
"It's disappointing and a little bit of frustration as well," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "But at the same time, it's not over. We've just got to regroup here. We're going back home, and hopefully we can have a good meeting [on Saturday] and really talk about stuff we can do better."
The Capitals managed only 20 shots on net in Game 4, with only 14 of them coming at 5-on-5. At one point in the contest, the Caps were without a shot on net for a span of 18 minutes and 40 seconds of playing time. While the Bruins' top six forward group scored eight consecutive Boston goals from Games 2 through 4, the Caps' own top six was unable to register its first shot on net at 5-on-5 until the 34th minute of Game 4.
"That's not a lot of shots, and that's not good enough from our side," says Backstrom. "Somehow, we have to create some more offensive chances. I think we've just got to move around more and create those chances for ourselves. It's not just going to happen. We have to create some more offensive zone looks. They're blocking a lot of shots and you've got to make it harder for them to defend."
There is nothing the Caps can do about losing three straight games for the first time in over three months. Their focus has to be entirely on getting a win on Sunday to send the series back to Boston for a Game 6 on Tuesday night.
"We just need to have five guys wanting to have the puck, support each other better," says Caps center Lars Eller. "I think we were pretty spread out, and it feels like it's one or maybe two guys attacking sometimes. We've just got to support each other a lot better than we are right now, attacking with five, defend with five, play faster. Everything. Just every aspect of the game, we've got to be better."
"We have to want it," says Backstrom. "Obviously it's a big game coming up and we have to be mentally ready. I feel like the previous three games before [Friday] were a lot better than this. We've got to be mentally ready and we've got to play for each other. That's maybe something we didn't do tonight."
Washington's top players will need to come to the fore in Game 5. Boston's best players were a bit quiet in the series opener, but they've collectively made a significant imprint on the series since. Four of the Caps' nine goals in this series have come from its shutdown line, with Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway contributing two goals each to the cause.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin is the only player with a point in every game of the series; he has two goals and four points. But Boston's top trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has combined for five goals and nine points, and its second line has contributed three key goals as well. Meanwhile, the Caps' ostensible top nine forward group has combined for half the output of Boston's top six. Washington has the two from Ovechkin and one each from T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson.
"I think it starts within the group, I think it starts within the individual," says Wilson, "thinking about what they can bring in that first period and then go from there. And then from there, the group is going to need to rally together. I think we have the confidence in here, we have the ability to win three games in a row. But we're going to need to bring it. They're an experienced hockey team and they're going to play hard. We need to show what we're made of, come out flying, and hopefully the bounces and the momentum go our way and we just keep rolling."
"Now we've got 48 hours to regroup here," says Eller, "and I want to see a different team in Game 5 at home. And I believe we can do that. I've seen it before."
At the very least, the Caps know they're capable of playing much better than they did on Friday night in Boston. They did so as recently as each of the three games in this series preceding that one.
"You've got to play well first," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "You've got to play a game that can be successful, and that will put you in the game; that will give you a chance. I don't think you can have this long-term plan; it's got to be a real short-term plan. Shift by shift, period by period and just one game. And that's all you really talk about, all you really think about, making sure the guys are prepared, making sure they're ready. And then you go out and fight for it, one at a time."