May 8 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Game 6, Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round, Penguins lead 3-2
A couple years back, the Caps used "Stick To The Script" as their slogan for the season. As they head back to Pittsburgh for Game 6 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Penguins, they may want to dust that slogan off and flip it around.
What the Caps need now is to rewrite the script.
For the second spring in succession, the Caps fell down 3-1 in their second-round series with the Pens. And for the second straight spring, Washington went back home and won by a two-goal margin in Game 5 on Kentucky Derby Saturday, forcing a Game 6 back in Pittsburgh on Monday night.
Here's where the Caps need the story to change. They fell into a 3-0 hole by the midpoint of the second period in Game 6 last spring before rallying with a trio of goals in the final 21 and a half minutes of regulation to force overtime.
Washington was one goal away from forcing a Game 7 at Verizon Center in that one, but Nick Bonino ended the game and the series, scoring at 6:32 of overtime to end the Caps' season.
Video: Coach Trotz speaks before #CapsPens Game 6
"It's perfect," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, of Washington's chance to improve upon last spring's showing. "That's what it's all about, hockey. This is great. We obviously deserve another game, so we're looking forward to Monday. It's a great building to play in and hopefully we can bring this confidence with us."
Washington is in a position to play a Game 6 on Monday because its best players showed up and got it done in the third period of Saturday's Game 5. With the Caps facing a 2-1 deficit heading into what could have been the final 20 minutes of their season, the Caps scored three goals in less than five minutes to take a 4-2 lead.
Goaltender Braden Holtby stopped all 12 Pittsburgh shots he faced in the final frame to ensure that Washington would live to fight another day.
Backstrom tied the game for Washington at 2:49 of the third, and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal at 7:20. Alex Ovechkin made it 4-2 with an important insurance strike just 27 seconds after Kuznetsov's goal.
"They just got some momentum," says Pens captain Sidney Crosby of the Capitals. "We had our chances to build on that lead and we didn't, then they tie it up and get some life off of that, gain some momentum for a short span, and end up putting another two in. You're going to lose momentum sometimes; teams are going to come. But unfortunately we gave up some goals in the process of that."
Kuzenstov's goal gave the Caps their first lead on home ice in this series, and it marked the first time Washington was able to come back and take a lead in any game of the series. The Caps have surrendered the game's first goal in four of the five games against Pittsburgh.
Caps coach Barry Trotz challenged his stars to be better on Saturday after they were generally lackluster in a 3-2 loss to the Pens in Pittsburgh in Wednesday's Game 4. They did just that, and Ovechkin and Andre Burakovsky both scored on Saturday, the first game in which Trotz had them trading places on the left sides of their respective lines.
"None of us were proud of last game," says Holtby. "We shook things up. There was a lot made of Ovi, but he can play different roles. Him and Tom together especially with Lars dogging the puck, it's an effective line. I don't think that's a demotion, I think that's making our team better. Burakovsky did a great job of filling in. We're going to need different performances every night, and we're going to need that in Game 6, too."
While some wrote of Ovechkin being moved to Eller's line as a demotion, it was more about spreading the skill around Washington's top nine, making for tougher match-ups for the Penguins and giving the Capitals better balance on their top three lines.
"We're big boys," says Ovechkin. "I think we understand what we have to do, and if we play well or if we don't play well. We know that in the big games you have to play hard and if you don't shoot the puck and you don't control the puck, you have to do some different things.
"We turned it around and in the third period, everybody was on the same page. You can see how calm we were at the end; no panic, everybody knew what they had to do. We'll take it."
"We all know we should be the difference maker almost every game here," says Backstrom. "Even if [Trotz] said it, you know it yourself if you had a bad game or a good game."
Video: All-Access look at Caps' Game 5 win at Verizon Center
For most of the first five games of their series with the Penguins, the Capitals have been chasing individual games and the series itself. The Caps dropped the first two games of the set on home ice, never holding a lead in either contest. They've surrendered the game's first goal in four of the five games and have led for less than 60 minutes of the more than 300 minutes of hockey that have been played between the two teams.
"I thought we played a really patient game," says Holtby. "I thought it was a lot better. Throughout the series I thought we had been shooting too much, and we were patient that way. We waited for good shots, and it paid off."
Twenty minutes away from finishing off the Capitals and the series and getting themselves a few days of rest, the Pens couldn't close out the Caps in the third. But they'll have another chance to do so Monday night in Pittsburgh.
"We're not going to overthink it," says Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. "We did a lot of good things tonight. It's two pretty good hockey teams that are playing against one another, and we've got to have a short memory. We've just got to reset our mindset, and go home and try to put our very best on the ice."
And for the Caps, it's another opportunity to extend their season, to finally catch up and pull even in a series they've been chasing since the second period of Game 1.
"We need all 20 players to step up in these games," says Backstrom. "That's what we need from now on, every game, from everybody."