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Capitals aiming to push Maple Leafs 'off cliff' in Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz, Washington hoping to eliminate Toronto, advance to second round

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

From the moment the Washington Capitals were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round last season, they have wanted another shot at them, a shot at redemption.

They can get that shot if they defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Air Canada Centre on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, CSN-DC).

Washington leads the best-of-7 series 3-2. 

"You get an opportunity to push someone off a cliff, you need to push them off if you can," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Saturday. "The difference is we've got a little bit of wiggle room. They don't."

Video: Williams' OT goal gives Capitals 3-2 series lead

The Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, already have taken care of their business by defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in their first-round series. It's up to the Capitals to do their part now by eliminating the Maple Leafs on their first try.

This is not to say the Capitals can't win a Game 7 against the Maple Leafs if one is necessary at Verizon Center on Tuesday. But that would be playing with fire against the young Maple Leafs, who have played the Capitals almost even to this point.

Each of the first five games of the series was decided by one goal. Four required overtime, with each team winning twice in sudden death.

The total goals are 16-15 for the Capitals. The shots on goal for the series are even at 175-175. The shot attempts are 359-352 for the Maple Leafs.

After some wild, occasionally wide-open games earlier, Game 5 was the tightest of the series and first one that didn't require at least three goals to win. Washington and Toronto each cleaned up some of its defensive-zone problems and cut down on the number of quality scoring chances allowed.

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals-Maple Leafs series coverage]

 

"I think both teams were probably in that same mode," Trotz said. "It's gotten tightened up a little bit. I think you're getting more familiar each game with each other, and therefore you're sort of nullifying some of each other's strengths, I guess. Everybody's starting to get angry at each other because you've been playing a long series against each other. I just think that the more you play, the more you get to know their tendencies. They know ours.

"Maybe some of that offense ends up going away a little bit. The games get tighter as they get more important."

Game 6 is the most important game for the Capitals now.

In a series filled with bounces, if the Maple Leafs had gotten one more, they'd be the team leading 3-2 and looking to close out the series Sunday. Playing a Game 7 would give them another chance to get another bounce and pull off an upset few outside their locker room believed they could pull off before this series began.

Somewhere along the line, Toronto, with talented rookies Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner, has gone from a young team with a very bright future to one that's very dangerous in the present. If the Maple Leafs can win the next two games and upset the Capitals, the Presidents' Trophy winners the past two seasons, who is going to tell them they can't knock off the defending Stanley Cup champions in the next round as well?

Certainly not their coach, Mike Babcock, who has had them believing they can win this series from Game 1 and has continually put the pressure on the Capitals by mentioning how much pressure is on them as the heavy favorites.

After losing Game 5 on Friday, Babcock essentially guaranteed the Maple Leafs would come back to win the series, saying, "We've been [to] overtime four times. It's a good, competitive series. We believe we still have a chance to win. That's what we're going to do."

Babcock also made sure to say, "See you in a couple days," to every Verizon Center employee he passed on the way out of the building.

The Capitals need to end that narrative now because it will only grow louder if they have to play a Game 7, when they are 4-10 in their history. They've had their hands full with the Maple Leafs' speed and often-relentless pressure, but they were the Presidents' Trophy winners for a reason.

They've played some good stretches in the series. It's time to finally put together a complete, 60-minute game; if they do, there will be no need for another overtime or a Game 7.

"Don't you think that you'd want to finish off a team as quick as you can?" Trotz asked. "That's what we want to intend to do. The fourth game is always the toughest game [to win]. They are going to come with their absolute best, and we're going to have to come with our absolute best game."

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