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Caps look for answers with season on the line

by Dan Rosen /
WASHINGTON -- Even their best wasn't good enough.

Now what?

"I just say we'll regroup. We've been in this position before," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said after Saturday's disappointing 4-3 loss in overtime that put the Capitals on the brink of elimination heading into Game 6 Monday at Mellon Arena. "It's a tough hill to climb, but you just have to think of it as one game."

The Capitals usually fare pretty well when they think along those lines.

They're playing in the Eastern Conference Semifinal because they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the New York Rangers in their quarterfinal series. They also came back from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7 against Philadelphia in last year's Eastern quarterfinal.

"It's hard situation for us, but like I said before, when we were down 3-1 against New York, we love this situation," Alex Ovechkin said. "We've lost three games in a row, but this is a good chance for us to move forward. Everybody understands the next game is the biggest game for us."

It's not as if they're heading into Game 6 with momentum, but at least Washington's confidence isn't burned yet.

The Capitals felt they played their best game of the series Saturday night because, save for the first 10 minutes of the third period, they moved their feet, got pucks deep, tightened up in the neutral zone and benefitted from some sparkling goaltending that wasn't there for them in Game 4.

The Penguins still put 42 shots on rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, but then again, it's not as if they're a slouch of a team, Boudreau said.

"They come at you and they can skate, so holding them to a few shots is going to be difficult," he said. "But, I thought we had as many chances as they did, and I thought we had the energy that they did. I thought we played a really good game that was decided in overtime. You can't get closer than that -- one shot. If (Dave) Steckel puts it in we're sitting here and talking a different tune with all different questions and we're all happy, on this side of the microphone anyway."

All that said, Washington still had those issues in the first 10 minutes of the third period. The Caps need to clean those up if they plan on bringing this series back home.

Ruslan Fedotenko scored 51 seconds into the period to tie the game at 2-2 after Kris Letang hit Evgeni Malkin with a blue line-to-blue line crossing pass and then big No. 71 made a sweet drop pass through his legs to Fedotenko. He got the puck at the top of the left circle and fired a shot past Varlamov's glove.

Caps defensemen Milan Jurcina and John Erskine were back, but they got caught flat-footed. Then again, Malkin was driving in, so you can't really fault them too much for playing deep and focusing on the NHL's regular-season scoring leader.

However, less than six minutes later, the Penguins scored a goal on the third shot of a sequence for the second straight game.

Tyler Kennedy had the first shot. Jordan Staal tried to bang in the rebound, but Varlamov made the save on him, too. The puck was still loose in front of the goalie and Matt Cooke sped in and swiped it home with his backhand at 6:27.

All of a sudden a 2-1 Capitals lead was a 3-2 Penguins lead.

"It's a good question," center Nicklas Backstrom said when he was asked what happened in the third. "We played a pretty good 40 minutes. As I said before, if we want to win games we have to play 60 minutes. We're struggling a little bit in the third period.

"It's not over yet," Backstrom added. "It's a tough series, and hopefully it's going to go seven games."

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