For the better part of the last two weeks, the Capitals have been chasing their second-round Stanley Cup playoffs series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Losing the first two games of the series on home ice put the Caps in chase mode right away. But after Monday's 5-2 win in Game 6 over the Penguins in Pittsburgh, the Capitals have chased the series even, and they've shrunk it to a best-of-one set.
That "one" is Game 7, on Wednesday night in Washington.
The three members of the Caps' recently reconstituted top line - T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom - scored the game's first three goals, tallying once in each period to lift Washington to a commanding 3-0 lead by the first minute of the third frame. John Carlson added a power-play bomb in the third, and Burakovsky buried his second of the game to make it 5-0 shortly thereafter.
Video: Capitals force Game 7 with 5-2 win against Penguins
Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, the Caps stymied the Pens thoroughly for 56 minutes before yielding a pair of garbage time, four-on-four goals in the final four minutes of the game. The Pens had three shots on net in the first period, and their lone five-on-five shot on net during the first came with 1.1 seconds remaining in the stanza.
"We just said we've got to have a real solid game," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of his team's approach to Game 6. "We've got to be high discipline, high work ethic and play the right way. And I thought we did. We came out really well. I thought we controlled a lot of the [offensive] zone time and won a lot of the battles. We got a couple big saves, and our special teams were good."
Pittsburgh ended the night with a mere 18 shots on net, and it has yet to surpass 30 shots on goal in any of the six games to date in the series.
Video: ALL CAPS | May 8
"Tonight's not good enough," says Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. "We made things a little more difficult on ourselves, having to go into Washington for Game 7. But that's the way it stands right now. We've got to forget this one and turn the page pretty quickly. But we can't expect the result we wanted playing like that."
Deploying a slightly altered look on the power play, Washington broke the seal on the scoresheet while enjoying its second man advantage opportunity of the game in the latter half of the first frame.
From his customary spot on the right half-wall, Nicklas Backstrom carried up toward the blueline, but released the puck back down low, to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was manning the goal line spot off the right post where Marcus Johansson normally operates. Kuznetsov continued the tic-tac-toe sequence by putting it on a tee for T.J. Oshie in the diamond, and Oshie fired a one-timer past Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for a 1-0 Washington lead at 12:41 of the first period.
"It's a pretty quick play," says Kuznetsov. "Nicky makes a great pass to me, and I just have to deliver it to Osh from there."
Video: Caps players talk after a 5-2 win in Game 6
Oshie turned in a monstrous offensive-zone shift early in the second, and it helped produce a second Washington goal. Playing with Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle at the start of the shift, Oshie made a strong play to keep the puck in along the left wing wall and then did so again - with great hand/eye coordination - on the other side of the rink several seconds later, with usual linemates Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky having joined him. Burakovsky then manhandled Pens defender Ron Hainsey on the left wall, stripping him of the puck and leaving him on the ice, creating an odd-man situation down low with Oshie going to the back door. Burakovsky slipped a shot through Fleury at 6:36 of the second to make it a 2-0 game.
By the time the first 40 minutes of the game were in the books, the Caps owned a 2-0 lead on the board and they were up 16-9 in shots on goal. To that point in the contest, the Capitals' lone failing was their inability to generate a shot on net with any of a handful of odd-man rushes they had to that point.
Backstrom quickly changed that when he issued a laser of a wrist shot to the top left corner of the cage on a two-on-one rush just 16 seconds into the middle stanza. At that juncture of the contest, it was a huge shift for the Caps to get the game's next goal.
Video: Coach Trotz talks after a 5-2 win in Game 6
"I think the Backy goal early in the period gave us lots of emotion," says Kuznetsov. "I've [seen] so many times when you go down a couple of goals, and you have so many emotions before the period [starts]. And then a guy scores another goal; that's always tough to handle."
Indeed, frustration appeared to set in for the Pens as the third period wore on. The Penguins took a couple of penalties, and Washington made them pay at the tail end of the second one, a slashing call on Matt Cullen.
After a prolonged battle for the puck in the right wing corner, the puck popped out toward Matt Niskanen at the right point, and he quickly put it on a tee for Carlson, whose weak-side one-timer beat Fleury clean to make it 4-0 at 11:17.
Burakovsky netted his second goal of the night and third in the last two games just 72 seconds later, making it a 5-0 game. After stripping Ian Cole of the puck at the Washington line, Burakovsky carried into Pittsburgh ice with Chad Ruhwedel as the lone man back. The Washington winger waited for the Pens defenseman to slide himself out of the picture in a failed pokecheck bid, and then patiently ripped it past Fleury.
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Burakovsky scores two off turnovers
With the two teams skating four to a side, the Pens scored twice in a span of 52 seconds late in the third, spoiling Braden Holtby's shutout bid. The Caps netminder needed to make only 16 stops on the night to earn his third win of the series and seventh of the playoffs.
A year after their season came to an abrupt halt in a Game 6 overtime loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh, the Caps rewrote the script, routing the Pens and forcing a Game 7 back in Washington.
Pittsburgh owned a 2-1 lead heading into the third period of Game 5 in Washington on Saturday, and the Pens were 20 minutes away from winning the series in five games. But the Caps scored eight unanswered goals in the next four periods, twice denying Pittsburgh a chance to close out the series.
"I think it's frustrating when you've got an opportunity like this to win a game and win a series at home," says Pens coach Mike Sullivan, "and you don't play the game the way that you'd like. You can get frustrated. So there was a little bit of frustration. But we talked about making sure that we grabbed a hold of ourselves and stayed focused, and just tried to play the game the right way. But we just - to a man - weren't good enough tonight."