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Despite Game 5 loss, Capitals remain positive

Washington leads series 3-2 heading to Philadelphia on Sunday

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- With each shot the Washington Capitals fired at Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth on Friday, the pressure inside Verizon Center and the anticipation among the fans grew.

Neuvirth was stopping everything the Capitals threw at him in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference First Round series, but, eventually, one of these shots had to go in, right?

Philadelphia, who managed a Flyers-record-low 11 shots on goal in the game, had gotten a goal on a Ryan White shot that was going wide before it deflected in off the skate of Capitals defenseman Taylor Chorney 7:52 into the second period. Just from the pure volume of pucks headed Neuvirth's way, the Capitals kept thinking at least one of them had to find its way over the goal line.

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm5: White scores off deflection in front

None did, and after a Chris VandeVelde empty-net goal with 30.8 seconds remaining sealed the Flyers' improbable 2-0 victory, the noise of anticipation that something good was going to happen for the Capitals was replaced by a stunned, silent anxiety among those headed for the exits.

If they haven't seen this particular movie before, they've seen one eerily similar. Having held a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series three days earlier, the Capitals have to go back to Philadelphia for Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday with the Flyers having a chance to even the series (noon ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Capitals have talked repeatedly about writing their own history and, after a regular season in which they ran away with the Presidents' Trophy with 120 points, they appeared to have their best chance to finally win their first Stanley Cup or, at least, get out of the second round for the first time since 1998.

They are halfway to becoming the fifth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-7 series.

"Everybody talks about all the past, the past, the past," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "The only pressure that we'll have is on ourselves. We've got to go into Philadelphia and we've got to play really well and get a win there. If we don't accomplish that, then it will go to Game 7. I thought tonight we played excellent.

"What are you going to say? You just keep playing that way and it will turn."

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm5: Neuvirth denies two chances

It was difficult for Trotz to be too upset after the Capitals outshot the Flyers 44-11, including 30-5 over the last two periods. The shot attempts were 82-27, including 61-15 in the second and third.

The Flyers went the final 10:11 of the second period without attempting a shot. That was how much of the game was spent in their end, but the Capitals could not break through against Neuvirth, who has stopped 75 of the 76 shots he has faced in two games since taking over from Steve Mason.

"Every shot that we make, he sees everything," said Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots on goal and 14 attempts. "We have to put one guy in front of the net and it's not going to be a pretty one. We have to find a way."

The Capitals know Neuvirth, 28, as well as anyone. Washington drafted him in 2006, and he played alongside many of their current players until he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres on March 5, 2014.

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm5: Neuvirth robs Beagle with left skate

"I've seen him play some good games, but that was definitely one of his best," Washington defenseman Karl Alzner said. "He looked calm. He looked maybe a little bit tired in the second, but that's understandable. But he found ways to block pucks."

After their dominant regular season, the Capitals entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs under immense pressure to take that next step in the postseason. As the Presidents' Trophy winners in 2010, they blew a 3-1 lead in their first round series against the Montreal Canadiens. They were thwarted in that series by goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 131 of 134 shots over the final three games.

That stands as one of the lowest points in a frustrating history that includes 10 series in which they blew a lead of 2-0 or 3-1.

"Which history?" Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom asked. "I don't know anything about the past. I'm looking forward here to the next game on Sunday."

If you want to focus on the more recent, the Capitals are 1-8 in their past nine chances to close out a playoff series dating to 2013. That includes 1-6 over the past two seasons under Trotz.

"I don't think this team has any playoff history," Alzner said. "This is our first playoffs together, so, in my opinion, no. Sorry to be cheeky, but that's the truth I think."

The positive for the Capitals is that they have two more chances to finish off the Flyers and make these past two games a lesson learned rather than the start of one in the NHL record book. They've outplayed the Flyers for most of this series and thoroughly dominated the past four periods in particular after getting off to a slow start in their 2-1 loss in Game 4.

"You're kind of kicking yourself for our first two periods in Game 4 there, but, other than that, we're good," Washington forward T.J. Oshie said. "This group has stayed tight together all year. We'll go into Game 6 and try to get her there."

Trotz likes to talk about the "hockey gods," and acknowledges, "People think I'm crazy." His point is valid, though.

With a chance to step on the Flyers' throats to start Game 4 and demonstrate the killer instinct Trotz wants, the Capitals played passively for the first two periods. They've dominated pretty much every minute since then, but have one goal to show for their effort.

How much more will the hockey gods demand?

"They sort of sometimes make you earn it a little bit," Trotz said. "We're learning they've got a resilient team on the other side there. They're getting good goaltending. They're resilient. They're blocking shots. They're all doing all the things they're trying to do and they came in here and got a goal. It doesn't matter how they get it, but they got one and we didn't get any.

"There's only one stat that matters at the end of the night, the one that's upon the scoreboard."

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