ARLINGTON, Va. -- No one has to tell the Washington Capitals who will be waiting for them should they get past the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference First Round.
The Capitals lead the best-of-7 series and can end it by winning Game 6 at Carolina on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, FS-CR, NBCSWA).
Barry Trotz, who coached Capitals to the Stanley Cup last season, warned after receiving his Cup ring Nov. 26, that, yes, they have a great chance to repeat, but to do it, "you'll have to through the (bleeping) Island."
[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Hurricanes series coverage]
And so it is that the New York Islanders, coached by Trotz after he was unable to agree to a new contract with Washington following last season, would be the next opponent for the Capitals if they're able to eliminate the Hurricanes.
But until the Capitals do, they're wisely putting aside any thoughts of Trotz and the Islanders, who swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
"I don't think we're really thinking about that opponent at all right now," Washington coach Todd Reirden said Sunday. "We're trying to get through this one. We know we've got to be at our very best tomorrow to be able to knock this team out because they've been one of the best in the League from the start of the year on for a reason. So, it's going to be a tough out."
Playing without forward T.J. Oshie, who fractured his right clavicle in a 2-1, Game 4 loss at Carolina on Thursday, the Capitals made a strong statement with a 6-0, Game 5 win at home on Saturday.
After allowing the Hurricanes to dictate the style and pace of play through the first four games, the Capitals got back to their identity as a physical forechecking team and put together a complete effort for the first time in the series.
Video: Capitals storm past Hurricanes in Game 5
"We did what we needed to do and just played with a little more jam, little harder, finished more checks, just got back to the way we know how to play," Wshington forward Brett Connolly said Saturday. "And no one was happy with the first four games, especially the two games in Carolina. We didn't look anything near what we were capable of, but sometimes that is good to get tested sometimes, and we did that in Carolina, and we are going to have to bring our best there.
"They come extremely hard there in that building."
The Hurricanes have shown throughout this series that they push back when pushed, and the Capitals should expect no different Monday. Although the Capitals are the defending champions and finished first in the Metropolitan Division, the Hurricanes, the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference making their first postseason appearance since 2009, were probably the better team in the series before Game 5.
Backed by its crowd, Carolina won Games 3 and 4 at PNC Arena by a combined 7-1. The home team has won all five games in the series.
But the Capitals know from experience the importance of being efficient in closing out a series. Last season, they were 4-0 when they had a chance to eliminate their opponent, winning each of those games on the road.
"You have to have that killer instinct and the ability to put teams away," Reirden said. "One of the positives to going through what we did last year was the fact that by eliminating teams earlier it gave us a little bit of extra energy at the end of it. So that's something that we learned from there. But I think also when we play to our identity and forced other teams to make mistakes, and they're in an elimination situation, then those mistakes become magnified."
After dominating Game 5, the Capitals believe they've recaptured the formula that worked so well for them last season. If they can play the same way in Game 6, they can be free to think about Trotz and the Islanders.
The alternative is facing the stress and drama of Game 7 at Washington on Wednesday against a scrappy underdog that hasn't shown any signs of being intimidated.
"We are sadly mistaken if we don't think that effort [in Game 5] and more is going to be required to win the elimination game against Carolina tomorrow because they will be the most desperate we've seen them, and they will be ready to respond from an effort that they weren't happy about," Reirden said. "So we've got to again take our game up another level, and I'll be challenging our players to do that in a difficult building.
"If we can do that, I think we give ourselves a good chance."
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