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Stanley Cup Final

Capitals convinced chance to win Stanley Cup 'just another hockey game'

Defeating Golden Knights in Game 5 of Final would give them first championship

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

LAS VEGAS -- They're all thinking about it, every single one of the Washington Capitals players, coaches, executives and employees.

The Stanley Cup. It could be theirs to hold, to lift, to hug, to drink from.

The Capitals have won 64 games this season, the most in their history. One more and they win the Stanley Cup for the first time.

Washington leads the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final 3-1, with Game 5 against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).


[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]


Only one Capitals player, defenseman Brooks Orpik, has won the Stanley Cup (with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009). 

"Most of us have never been in this position," Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said. "For me personally, I don't try to think about it too much, what's going on, and just try focusing on different things. But it's hard."

So the Capitals are trying to make it easier on themselves by not letting Game 5 become too big in their minds. They had a normal practice Wednesday, which was energetic and to the point, complete with work on the power play and penalty kill, just like normal.

Video: Friedman on Caps winning Game 5, Islanders' changes

There were no big speeches or extracurriculars other than center Lars Eller doing the hot lap, a full solo lap around the rink, prior to the start of practice because he also did it at practice before Game 2 here and Washington won that game (3-2).

The Capitals' hot-lap tradition, started this postseason, is strictly for road games. Win the previous game and the same player, or coach, does the lap again before the next practice or morning skate. Lose, and someone new gets the honor.

It's a small example of what has kept the Capitals loose throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The looser they are on days without a game, the more focused they become on game day, Eller said.

"I think we just have to prepare the same way that's given us success," goalie Braden Holtby said. "Focus on what you're going to do individually to contribute to the team. Remind yourself to get that feeling back where you feel you're at your best. Rely on your routines, your training, your experience to realize it's just another hockey game."

Center Nicklas Backstrom had the same sentiment, saying the Capitals need to treat Game 5 as a regular game. Then he laughed, because he knows it's not.

"But at least I'm trying to make it a regular game," Backstrom said.

It's a mindset that has worked for them throughout the playoffs, especially when they have had the opportunity to eliminate an opponent.

Video: Shane Hnidy previews Game 5 for the Golden Knights

They're perfect in those instances, with three series-ending wins on the road: Game 6 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round; Game 6 against the Penguins in the second round; and Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final after avoiding elimination by winning Game 6 at home.

"I feel like this year we've been attacking those games instead of sitting back and waiting for our opportunity," Backstrom said. "We have been going out there being aggressive. It's not going to change now."

That mentality is a massive change from the Capitals of the recent past. Prior to this season, Washington lost a series after winning three games seven times since 2008. It did it twice after taking a 3-1 lead (2010 against the Montreal Canadiens, 2015 against the New York Rangers) and once after leading 3-2 (2014 against the Rangers).

The Capitals have lost a series after leading 3-1 five times, more than any NHL team.

"We've just kind of realized what it takes to win games at this time of year," defenseman John Carlson said. "We're all relying on each other better than ever. I think we've had a calmness about certain situations that in the past we haven't."

Especially on the road, where the Capitals are 9-3 this postseason, where they won Game 2 of the Cup Final to start a three-game winning streak.

If they win Game 5, they will tie the NHL record for most road wins in a postseason, matching the 1995 New Jersey Devils, the 2000 Devils, the 2004 Calgary Flames and the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.

Of those teams, only the Flames didn't win the Stanley Cup. They lost the Cup Final in seven games to the Lightning after leading the series 3-2.

"You work so hard to get to this point and you want to make it happen," coach Barry Trotz said. "We talked about just having to make sure that we've got focus on one game. There's a very proud team on the other side. They're well-coached. They've got a lot of pride. They're going to come with their best game. We're not going to beat them with anything less than our best game. It's not going to be three-quarters of our roster; it's going to be everybody. And we're going to have to match their work ethic. We're going to have to match the detail.

"It's just one game. You just focus on the next game. I can't tell you what's going to happen tomorrow, but I can tell you you're going to need your best game if you want to get this done."


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