PITTSBURGH -- The cheers and applause inside the visitors locker room at PPG Paints Arena on Monday were audible in the hallway outside, but by the time the doors were opened to the media, the Washington Capitals' postgame celebration was over, their focus back on business.
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There was reason for the Capitals to be happy after their 5-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round. Other than a late loss of focus that permitted the Penguins to score two 4-on-4 goals that made the final score closer than the game had been played, the Capitals had put together their best effort of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They came to Pittsburgh determined not to have their season end in the same place it did last season. Now that they've done that in resounding fashion and forced a Game 7 in Washington on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), they can't afford to let up.
"There's a lot of work to be done," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "We've said it before: These guys aren't going to go away. We're going to have to be better. We're going to have to push them out. That's going to be a tough task, but I think it's something that we have the right guys and we have the right mentality right now to do that.
"So we're looking forward to the challenge in Game 7."
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Oshie finishes tic-tac-toe PPG
After losing 3-2 in Game 4 here last Wednesday when the Penguins were missing captain Sidney Crosby because of a concussion, the Capitals trailed 3-1 in the best-of-7 series and were on the verge of another disappointing spring when they failed to meet postseason expectations. The talk of how Washington hasn't advanced past the second round since 1998 was louder than ever.
And despite being outplayed for much of the first four games by the Presidents' Trophy winners, the Penguins appeared unstoppable and well on their way toward defending the Stanley Cup championship they won last season.
Trailing 2-1 entering the third period of Game 5 on Saturday, with Crosby back in the Penguins lineup, the Capitals were 20 minutes away from a long offseason of potentially seismic changes throughout the organization. That's when they pulled together and played their best period of the series, scoring three straight goals to pull out a 4-2 victory.
That carried over into Monday. With the memory of their 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins in Game 6 here a year ago fresh in their minds, the Capitals made sure there would be no repeat of that.
They outshot Pittsburgh 11-3 in a dominant first period and led 1-0 on Oshie's power-play goal at 12:41. Andre Burakovsky made it 2-0 6:36 into the second by stealing the puck from Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey along the left-wing boards, driving to the net, and banking a shot in off goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Burakovsky scores two off turnovers
The outcome remained in doubt with the Capitals up by two goals after two periods, but they made sure not to give the Penguins life in the third. Nicklas Backstrom scored on a 2-on-1 16 seconds into the period to make it 3-0. Then John Carlson (power-play goal at 11:17) and Burakovsky (12:29) scored 1:12 apart to make it 5-0 and send many of the Penguins fans toward the exits.
"If you look at the games, even if it was 3-1 to them, I thought we actually played better than the results," Backstrom said. "We just kept going. I think the difference in the last two games is maybe we capitalized on the chances too and really made sure we stayed on them too."
Coach Barry Trotz has talked all season about how the Capitals' resilience makes this team different than those that disappointed in the playoffs before it. Until the past two games, it was unclear whether Trotz really believed that or was trying to convince himself and his players of it.
"We took a deep breath and kind of regrouped ourselves and said, 'Let's go after them in Game 5,'" defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "It took until the third period in Game 5 to get going and get rewarded for it. That was one of those moments I think we could have just wilted and even in Game 5 we could have easily just packed it in and said, 'Man, this ain't going well.'
"We just kept playing and kept playing, and here we are. We've got a chance to beat them in seven."
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Carlson buries a one-timer for PPG
Niskanen also pointed to another turning point. It came when Trotz asked captain Alex Ovechkin to drop from the first line to the third for Game 5.
Ovechkin, the most prolific goal-scorer of his generation, never questioned it. As he did with other requests Trotz made of him this season, such as reducing his ice time, Ovechkin accepted his role and went out and scored a goal in Game 5.
"I absolutely loved it," Niskanen said. "I loved that he didn't take it personal. This time of year, sometimes you have to just check your ego and work harder. In Game 5, he skated his butt off, ran into people, he was a bull in a china shop again and got rewarded with a goal. His attitude hasn't changed. He wants to win and wants to come here and make a difference. That's not easy to do for a proud player that's been a top, top player in this league for a long time.
"He checked his ego and that was that."