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Round 2

Penguins confident facing elimination in Game 6 against Capitals

Coach says two-time defending Cup champs must learn from mistakes to extend season

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Sullivan liked the Pittsburgh Penguins' effort in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals.

The result was another story.


[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Penguins series coverage]


The 6-3 loss to the Capitals on Saturday gave Washington a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series. Pittsburgh's coach realizes the quality of the effort won't matter unless it results in a win, starting with Game 6 at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, SN). A loss will eliminate the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and move Washington into the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1998.

"I know our guys felt good about their respective games last night," Sullivan said Sunday. "We've got to learn from some of the mistakes that we made and be ready to move by it and be prepared for that challenge right in front of us. But I know our guys are excited about the opportunity."

The Penguins are 4-0 when facing possible elimination since losing 2-1 in overtime to the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round on April 24, 2015. Mike Johnston was coach of the Penguins for that game; Sullivan has yet to lose a series since replacing Johnston on Dec. 12, 2015.

He credits his players for that.

"I think it comes down to character and the people we have in this locker room," Sullivan said. "These guys are competitive guys. They know what it takes to win. They're not afraid of challenges and they embrace these types of situations, so we have the utmost confidence in the group that we have. They're a battle-tested group and I know our guys are looking forward to the opportunity to play tomorrow night."

The Penguins have trailed 3-2 in a series once during each of the past two Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the 2016 Eastern Conference Final, they lost 4-3 in overtime in Game 5 to the Tampa Bay Lightning before winning 5-2 in Game 6 at Tampa and 2-1 in Game 7 at home.

Video: The crew on Game 5 between the Pens and Caps

Pittsburgh avoided elimination twice in the 2017 playoffs. The Penguins defeated Washington 2-0 in Game 7 of the second round and the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in double overtime in Game 7 of the conference final.

Those experiences have made the Penguins confident in these situations, so it wasn't surprising when Pittsburgh chose not to practice Sunday, the day before an elimination game. Instead they remained in Washington on Saturday night before returning to Pittsburgh.

After playing nine games against the Capitals (four in the regular season and five in the playoffs), Sullivan said there isn't much left to learn.

"I think our players are well aware of where we can be better," Sullivan said. "There will be a little bit of video, but not very much. I think the reality is that we've played these guys five times in a row. … Certainly we'll address some of the areas where we think we can improve and get better that will help us in Game 6.

"But our players are well aware of the type of game that we played, when we had success and why we had success. We just have to remember that going into Game 6."

If the Penguins play the way they did Saturday, Sullivan believes they'll win Game 6. That would leave them one win away from a third straight conference final.

Sullivan isn't looking ahead to a Game 7, though.

"I think it's all about an attitude going in and I believe our guys have the right attitude," Sullivan said. "They believe in themselves. They know they're capable. Really what we're looking at is going out and winning one hockey game, and that's all we need to do. I know we're very capable of that. We're not looking beyond it. We're not looking behind it."


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