WASHINGTON -- They knew it was coming, this attack from the Washington Capitals. The Pittsburgh Penguins talked about it, prepared for it and accepted it as fact before it became reality Saturday, because they know teams facing elimination tend to play with desperation unseen before in the series.
The Penguins' problem is they fueled the Capitals' attack with their own blunders and bad penalties. They beat themselves as much as the Capitals beat them.
That's why Pittsburgh lost 3-1 at Verizon Center in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round. That's why the Penguins are going home to play Game 6 against the Capitals, who have life and one of their best defenseman, Brooks Orpik, ready to get back in the lineup at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
"We had bad discipline," Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said, summarizing Pittsburgh's night perfectly.
We haven't seen this often from the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. Their discipline and poise and control have been as important to their success as their unmatched speed and the unexpected success of 21-year-old rookie goaltender Matt Murray.
They kept it when they lost Game 2 against the New York Rangers in the first round; three goals against in less than five minutes that did them in. They had it when they lost Game 1 against the Capitals; it was T.J. Oshie who did them in that night.
Video: Murray, Crosby react to Game 5 loss vs Washington
The Penguins lost their discipline and their poise and control in Game 5. The Capitals took advantage.
"Look at the game, it's a couple mental breakdowns," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said.
Washington wasn't dominant. Far from it. The Penguins controlled a lot of the play. They outshot the Capitals 31-19, including 12-4 in the first period. They were in the offensive zone, buzzing, generating. They scored on the power play.
If only they didn't have a couple of major malfunctions, like defenseman Ian Cole's retaliatory slashing penalty on Tom Wilson at 2:54 of the second period. That penalty flies in the face of everything coach Mike Sullivan has preached since he arrived in Pittsburgh on Dec. 12.
Be resilient, Sullivan says he has preached daily. Play through it, is the message he has delivered.
Cole did neither. He got angry that Wilson kept his stick between his legs and wouldn't move it, so he reacted by whacking Wilson with his stick away from the play. The officials immediately blew the whistle. That wasn't going to fly.
Oshie scored 66 seconds into the power play. Sullivan's anger showed on his face.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Oshie buries home rebound for PPG
"Our team has had success because we've had discipline and playing the game the right way," Sullivan said. "When you play a team like Washington that has a power play as good as it is, you can't give it an opportunity to be the difference."
You also can't feed the Capitals the puck in the middle of the offensive zone the way defenseman Brian Dumoulin did midway through the second period.
Dumoulin made a tape-to-tape pass to Justin Williams, who plays for the Capitals. Bad idea. Williams, uncontested, scored with a shot through Murray's five-hole.
Sullivan took the high road and protected the 24-year-old defenseman when asked about that turnover.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Williams converts turnover into goal
"I think it's just hockey," Sullivan said. "Brian's played a lot of great hockey for us. When you play as many minutes as he's played and you're playing against top players, you're not going to play a perfect game. I'm sure he'd like to have that one back, but we've gotta find a way as a group to recover."
They've found ways to recover since January, when the players caught on to what Sullivan was preaching, general manager Jim Rutherford shaped the roster the way it is now, and the Penguins started playing faster and ultimately better.
Now they have to recover after feeding Washington's attack and breathing life into the best team in the NHL during the regular season. Worse yet, the Penguins fed the Capitals' previously dormant power play, which should be a frightening thought to them.
The Capitals scored on two of their first three power plays. They had one goal on 12 chances in the first four games. They needed three shots on goal to get the two goals Saturday. Two of those shots came off of Alex Ovechkin's stick, including one six seconds into Washington's first power play that was a vintage Ovechkin one-timer from the left circle.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm 5: Ovechkin fires a one-timer for PPG
Oshie's goal, the eventual game-winner, came after Murray made the initial save on Ovechkin's one-timer from the left circle but left a rebound in front of the net.
"They want to feed No. 8 and he's got a great shot," Letang said of Ovechkin. "It's just a question of being more disciplined."
It's a good question to ask: Why weren't the Penguins more disciplined in Game 5?
"Surprised yes, but it's the playoffs, there are a lot of emotions," Letang said. "You want to win the game. You want to play hard and sometimes you cross the line. We have to forget about it. Things happen to everybody. We forget about it and go back at it in Game 6."
When they do, the Capitals are going to be on the attack again. They're going to be desperate. They're still facing elimination. They will be until they're out or they win Game 7.
The Penguins better be smarter in Game 6, or Game 7 back here will become a potentially horrifying reality.