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Capitals get physical in Game 6 against Lightning to stay alive

Ovechkin sets tone with big hits, helps Washington force deciding game in Eastern Final

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- In the Washington Capitals locker room following their 3-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, they had reason to feel good about themselves while also knowing their job is not complete.

Facing elimination for the first time in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals came up with their most complete performance of the postseason to force a deciding Game 7 in Tampa Bay on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVAS).

The winner will advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final beginning Monday.

 

[RELATED: Holtby's confident play, big saves help Capitals | Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

That remains the Capitals' goal at the end of this roller-coaster ride of a series that began with them winning the first two games followed by three consecutive losses before a season-saving win Monday.

"We've never wavered, no matter what," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "You're up 2-0, all of a sudden down 3-2. Those are the things that can drive you absolutely crazy. It's a bounce here, maybe a goal there or a call or something that can change a series. We've been really focused on don't let anything change it. Just focus on the next event, whatever that event is."

Video: TBL@WSH, Gm6: Ovechkin does it all for the Caps

Defenseman Brooks Orpik is the only Capitals player who has played in a Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Detroit Red Wings with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008 before the Penguins got their revenge on the Red Wings by winning the following season.

The Capitals are a win away from the second Stanley Cup Final appearance in their history; the first was in 1998.

"It's great that we're close," said forward T.J. Oshie, who made it 1-0 with a power-play goal with 4:48 left in the second period and scored an empty-net goal. "I think we have an idea of what it takes to get here, but I think we're hungry right now -- I'm tired right now -- but we're excited to drop the puck in a couple days here and go to war.

"If you look at anything beyond that, this team's too good and we'll pay for it."

Video: Capitals came out in full force to tie the series 3-3

The Capitals will look to duplicate the effort they had Monday. Forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who finished a Chandler Stephenson feed 10:02 into the third period to increase Washington's lead to 2-0, called it a perfect game; he wasn't far off.

The Capitals outhit the Lightning 39-19. They had 20 blocked shots. And they got a 24-save shutout from goaltender Braden Holtby, his first shutout in either the regular season or playoffs this season. Alex Ovechkin had big hits on Yanni Gourde and Dan Girardi to set the tone early, and the Capitals followed his lead.

"[Ovechkin] was huge," Smith-Pelly said. "He was flying around, he was finishing checks, he was skating hard, and when we see that and the crowd gets excited, we all feed off of it. He had a huge game, and although he didn't get a point or a goal or anything like that, guys on the bench definitely were feeding off the way he was playing."

Video: TBL@WSH, Gm6: Smith-Pelly on his goal, forcing Game 7

Ovechkin finished with four hits. Orpik and forward Tom Wilson led the Capitals with six hits apiece. Smith-Pelly had five. Fifteen of the 18 Capitals skaters blocked at least one shot.

"Guys blocking shots, [Ovechkin] blocking shots, guys finishing checks, [Holtby] playing great, just strong defensive play," Smith-Pelly said.

Smith-Pelly's goal exemplified the Capitals' effort. It began with Stephenson beating Tampa Bay defenseman Braydon Coburn to a Smith-Pelly dump-in in the left face-off circle on a potential icing play. After passing the puck to linemate Jay Beagle, Stephenson got it back behind the net and threw a backhand feed in front that Smith-Pelly shot past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy on the stick side to make it 2-0.

"I just saw [Smith-Pelly] throw it and I just took off, tried to beat it out," Stephenson said. [Beagle] got up ice, made a great play down low, and [Smith-Pelly] made a great play to get up ice and beat his check."

Video: TBL@WSH, Gm6: Trotz reflects on Capitals effort

Over the next couple of days, you'll hear a lot about the Capitals' 4-11 Game 7 record, including 1-3 on the road, with the lone road win coming in overtime in the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins. The Capitals have proven repeatedly this season that they are different than those Washington teams that failed in the playoffs before it, overcoming a 0-2 series deficit against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and eliminating their longtime nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the second round.

They'll try to do it again Wednesday.

"I don't think there's a team I've ever had that I'd want to go into a Game 7 with [more]," Trotz said. "This team has done a lot of special things this year. It's grown, it continues to do that. What an opportunity going into Tampa. We've won on the road. We've won at home here. We'll see if we can earn the right to keep playing."

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