TAMPA -- The Washington Capitals say this team is different from those that failed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in previous seasons because it is comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
Well, the Capitals have got themselves in a pickle after a poor start doomed them in a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final at Amalie Arena on Saturday.
[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]
Six days ago, the Capitals headed home on a high after winning the first two games of the best-of-7 series on the road. But they've since lost three in a row and trail 3-2 in the series and face elimination for the first time this postseason in Game 6 at Capital One Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVAS).
"Best-of-3, we said it before the game and we just have to win two games," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. "Our goal is to come back here and play a Game 7."
That would be in Tampa on Wednesday. But to force a Game 7, the Capitals will have to stem the Lightning's momentum and find a way to win at home. The road team won each of the first four games of the series before Tampa Bay ended that trend Saturday by jumping out to a 3-0 lead before 21 minutes passed, then holding on in a frantic third period when it was outshot 13-4.
The Capitals must respond Monday with a home win of their own, but they're 3-5 at Capital One Arena in the playoffs and 6-9 over the past two postseasons.
"This group has got its backs against the wall and this group has responded all year," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "I don't expect anything different."
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm5: Trotz discusses Game 5 loss
Washington's reason for belief is that not much has gone easy for them this season. The Capitals have found ways to battle through adversity, whether it was going 11-10-1 in their first 21 regular-season games or losing the first two games of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime.
They came back to win that series in six games and then overcame their longtime nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the second round, clinching the series with a 2-1 overtime win in Game 6 despite playing without three of their top six forwards - Nicklas Backstrom (right-hand injury), Andre Burakovsky (upper-body injury) and Tom Wilson (suspended).
"A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 (against the Blue Jackets) in the first round. Things got hard in the last series (against the Penguins) and we could have melted, and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again. Bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game, and then we'll go from there. But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6, and we'll be ready to go."
Niskanen took full blame for Washington's horrendous start Saturday. He and defense partner Dmitry Orlov were on the ice for all three Tampa Bay goals, beginning with Cedric Paquette's 19 seconds into the game that set the tone for a lopsided first period when the Lightning won most of the puck battles and were faster throughout.
It began with Orlov losing the puck at the red line and Paquette knocking it past Evgeny Kuznetsov in front of the Capitals bench. Then, Ryan Callahan chipped the puck past Niskanen at the blue line, chased it down in the left face-off circle and made a one-hand pass to Paquette in the slot for a shot past goaltender Braden Holtby's glove.
Ondrej Palat made it 2-0, using Niskanen as a screen to beat Holtby past his blocker from between the face-off circles at 9:04. The Lightning outshot the Capitals 13-4 in the first period and the shot attempts were 29-8 for Tampa Bay.
Things got worse on the opening shift of the second period when Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman skated wide around Niskanen in the left face-off circle before driving to net. The rebound of Stralman's second shot bounced in off Callahan's left hand to make it 3-0.
"We stunk in the first," Niskanen said. "They just outskated us, outbattled us and the first shift in the second I just get burned wide and they get another one. It's a pretty tall hill to climb."
To the Capitals' credit, they battled back. A deflection goal from Kuznetsov made it 3-1 at 4:21 of the second and they had the Lightning on their heels for much of the rest of the game.
Ovechkin's 6-on-5 goal with 1:36 left in the third got them within one goal, but they couldn't put the tying goal past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. They head home with their hopes of reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998 hanging in the balance.
They believe they are up to the challenge.
"We've had to work for everything we've gotten and I think that's why it shows when it gets uncomfortable," Holtby said. "We stay to our game, we're still playing and we stick together and we're going to need our best effort of that in Game 6 to push this thing forward."
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm5: Ovechkin pots one-timer late in 3rd
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