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Capitals closing in on first conference final in 17 years

by Katie Brown / NHL.com

ARLINGTON, Va. -- It's been 17 years since the Washington Capitals have advanced to the Eastern Conference Final.

Holding a 3-1 lead against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Second Round, the Capitals can get back with a win in Game 5 on Friday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

It would be the third time the Capitals have made it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the first since they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998, where they lost to the Detroit Red Wings.

Since 2010, Washington is 3-8 in playoff games when its opponent is facing elimination. But for the Capitals, it's important to not look too far into the future or gaze too deeply into the past.

"We've got to get one more win," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Thursday. "At the start of the year, we said we wanted to do something special, in our way, with our identity, whatever that might be. I think we've made some really good strides forward. The next stride is to get the next win. That next win is going to be hard to come by."

This is the second time the Capitals have held a 3-1 lead in a best-of-7 playoff series since selecting Alex Ovechkin with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft.

The first time was in 2010, when Washington faced the Montreal Canadiens in the first round and lost in seven games.

Trotz has experienced similar postseason disappointments. He coached the Nashville Predators into the playoffs seven times in 15 seasons, and the Predators were eliminated from each of their two second-round appearances.

None of that history really matters to these Capitals. They've achieved a balance between remembering and learning from the past and not wanting to repeat its mistakes.

Forward Brooks Laich, their longest tenured player, has been here for all of the ups and downs and said the Capitals have a long road ahead.

"The feeling in the room is that we haven't accomplished anything yet," Laich said. "We just want to keep marching forward. We don't look at the past. Whether it's success or failure in the last game, we don't look at what just happened, we just prepare for the next one. We've [forgotten] about yesterday and now we're focused on tomorrow."

In each of the Capitals' seven wins through 11 playoff games, a different player has scored the game-winning goal, and none of them were Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward have contributed from the top line, but secondary scoring has been an important part of Washington's success.

That's precisely what Trotz wanted to accomplish with Washington this season.

"I think the guys recognize that different contributions have to come from different guys all the time," Trotz said. "We've talked about creating a culture where we can win different ways with different people, and to this point we've done that all year and hopefully we can continue to do it."

With their focus turned back to Game 5 and the Rangers, the Capitals are taking it one game at a time, as they've done all season. Facing a desperate team on the brink of elimination, this is especially important.

"I think the players know they've got to beat a very good team in the Rangers and they're going to come with their best effort," Trotz said. "We're going to have to do the same. When you're in this position, you've got to keep the foot to the pedal and see if you can get that win."

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