ARLINGTON, Va. -- Thursday had the potential to be so different, so much easier for the Washington Capitals.
"As I said to the guys," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, "I wish I could have walked in the room and said, 'Hey, great job and I'll see you Saturday' and give them a couple days [off]."
Instead, the Capitals had to get ready to play Game 5 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday at Verizon Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC, CSN-PH). That's because they wasted an opportunity to close out this Eastern Conference First Round series in Game 4 on Wednesday.
Seeking to sweep a best-of-7 series for the first time in their history, the Capitals started passively and let the Flyers take the lead and control of the game early. Down 2-0 after two periods, they made a strong push in the third, outshooting the Flyers 13-4, but came up short in a 2-1 defeat.
Video: WSH@PHI, Gm4: MacDonald rifles it home to extend lead
"I thought we eased into that game," Trotz said. "You've heard me talk about sometimes going around games instead of through games, and I think some guys wanted to go around that game thinking that maybe it was going to be an easy game and [the Flyers] would go away and they're not going away. You've got to make them go away."
Unfortunately for the Capitals, this has been a recurring theme in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have yet to learn to have that "killer instinct" to finish off an opponent that Trotz has often spoke about during his two seasons with the organization.
It's actually an issue that predates Trotz's arrival. The Capitals are 1-7 in their past eight chances to close out a series dating back to 2013, when they couldn't close out the New York Rangers after leading 3-2 in their first-round series.
In the first round of last year's playoffs, they had the New York Islanders down 3-2, but lost Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum before taking the series with a Game 7 victory at Verizon Center. Then, after taking a 3-1 series lead on the Rangers in the second round, they lost the next three games, including two in overtime.
"It's amazing in this league if you give teams hope, what they can do with it," Capitals right wing Tom Wilson said. "They win one game, they're obviously feeling a lot better than being down 3-0 and, say they get the second game, it can be a slippery slope. So, when you have a team on the brink of elimination, you have to make sure that you finish it and take care of business. That's, obviously, something this team can do a better job at."
Video: WSH@PHI, Gm4: Neuvirth denies Burakovsky to hold lead
The Capitals want no part of going back to Philadelphia for a Game 6 on Sunday or any of the questions, or self-doubt that might come with that. There have been four teams in NHL history that have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-7 series, including the 2009-10 Flyers, who did it in the second round against the Boston Bruins.
The Capitals have never blown a 3-0 series lead, but have blown two-game leads - 2-0 or 3-1 - 10 times in their history, including the second-round series against the Rangers last season. So, playing a Game 6 would be playing with fire.
"If we have to we have to, but, obviously, five games is better than six," defenseman Karl Alzner said.
The Capitals claim their past matters little now and, as Alzner put it, they're "just a completely different team." This is their chance to show that by finishing off the Flyers on Friday and moving on.
One thing this edition of the Capitals has going for it is an established track record of being able to rebound quickly. The Capitals did not lose consecutive games in regulation at all during the regular season. Their longest losing streak of three games didn't come until the final week and a half and included overtime losses to the New York Islanders on April 5 and the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 7.
"We don't want to lose two games in a row," Trotz said. "That's what we said all year long, so, hopefully, we can continue that trend."
So, the Capitals spent Thursday morning at their practice facility going over video of Game 4. They saw how they stayed mostly to the outside for much of the first two periods and passed up some opportunities to shoot the puck, drive to the net and make life more difficult for Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth, their former teammate, in his first playoff start in nearly five years.
They made a push in the third period by playing with an urgency they'll need from the drop of the puck on Friday. Otherwise, it will be back to Wells Fargo Center.
"Our focus is to send those guys home," Wilson said. "We've got to do a better job if we have them up against the wall to finish it and move on."