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Capitals frustrated by second straight loss to Penguins

Washington trying to remain confident after carrying play, dominating shots on goal

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

WASHINGTON -- The door to the Washington Capitals locker room stayed closed for a long time. Alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom spoke. Others followed.

No one would share what was said specifically, but it wasn't hard to figure out the theme: Stay confident. Stay patient. Stick with it.

The Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-2 at Verizon Center on Saturday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round, even though they dominated the first period and outshot the Penguins 36-24.


[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Penguins series coverage | Capitals pull Braden Holtby from Game 2 loss to Penguins]


They trail the best-of-7 series 2-0, even though they have carried more of the play and outshot them 71-45.

Only 18 of 87 teams that lost the first two games at home have come back to win a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and now the Capitals head to Pittsburgh, where they went 0-3 amid a six-game loss to the Penguins in the second round last year.

Game 3 is Monday at PPG Paints Arena (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Capitals have never advanced past the second round in captain Alex Ovechkin's 12 seasons. This is perhaps this group's last best chance to win the Stanley Cup, after winning the Presidents' Trophy for the second straight season, before dealing with expiring contracts and salary-cap issues in the offseason, and now it is in serious jeopardy against their bitter rivals.

"Sometimes there's things that people have to say, and sometimes there's things that people have to hear," Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. "We're regrouping in here, and we're looking forward to the challenge going into Pittsburgh."

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm 2: Trotz addresses the media after loss

It's going to be a big one. How much better can the Capitals play than they did in the first period Saturday? They controlled the puck. They drew two penalties. They had a 16-5 lead in shots and a 35-8 lead in shot attempts.

But like in Game 1, when Penguins forward Jake Guentzel saved a goal in the crease, the Capitals came within inches of scoring but failed to take the lead. Center Lars Eller hit the right post on a 2-on-1.

And like in Game 1, when Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scored twice in 52 seconds, the Capitals fell behind in the second period. Penguins center Matt Cullen blocked a shot on the penalty kill, skated around Capitals defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, broke away and slid the puck between goaltender Braden Holtby's pads for a shorthanded goal.

Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen responded on the power play shortly afterward. But then Crosby made two great plays, pulling the puck between his legs on the rush and setting up Phil Kessel, and dropping to his knees to block a shot and springing a 2-on-1 rush. Boom, it was 3-1, Pittsburgh.

Holtby had given up three goals on 14 shots, so Capitals coach Barry Trotz replaced him with Philipp Grubauer for the third period. He said he wanted to change the mojo. It didn't work. There were only mo' problems.

"I think it's easy to get frustrated when you feel like you played …" Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said, not finishing the sentence. "I think sometimes we get a little impatient when we do have a period like that and then we have nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. I think sometimes we deviate from our plan a little bit, and when you do that against this team you give up odd-man rushes. That's what they live off of."

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Backstrom cashes in on a rebound

Yep. The Penguins have so much speed and skill, and have blocked so many shots and gotten such good goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, they can lose the possession battle but win the war. They did it in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and they're doing it again against the Capitals. They have controlled 42.61 percent of the shot attempts 5-on-5, tied for worst in the playoffs, but are 6-1.

Holtby must be better; he has allowed too many soft goals. Shattenkirk must be better; he has made too many mistakes. The Capitals offensive stars must produce more; they have failed to take advantage of too many opportunities. But most of all, the Capitals must keep playing the way they did in the first period Saturday and not buckle if and when something goes wrong.

"I think we can see our path to success," Niskanen said. "We played really, really well in the first period. We just didn't get rewarded. They capitalized on some of our mistakes in the second, and it changed the game. We were chasing it a little bit."

The Capitals have been chasing the Penguins for years. They have lost eight of the nine series the teams have played. They have lost to them four times and watched them go on to win the Cup, including last year. If they don't stop chasing them now, when will they?

"They've got great pedigree," Trotz said. "They've won a Cup. They've gone to places in their room where you have to go to win a championship, and we're going to have to go to places we haven't gone before if we're going to beat this team."

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