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Stanley Cup Final

Capitals have been in 'tougher positions' than trailing Stanley Cup Final

Were behind in every series before losing Game 1 to Golden Knights

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

LAS VEGAS -- The Washington Capitals have been in bigger binds during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, just not on as big a stage.

"We've come back from tougher positions than we are in now," forward Lars Eller said.

The Capitals lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Vegas Golden Knights 6-4 at T-Mobile Arena on Monday. Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is here Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

This is not the first time Washington has trailed a series.

It lost the first two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round. In the second round, the Capitals lost Game 1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who eliminated them the previous two seasons. In the Eastern Conference Final, Washington lost three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning to face back-to-back elimination games.

But none of those scenarios comes with the pressure and scrutiny of being one of the final two teams, with the eyes of the hockey world focused on every nuance.

"We don't want to be down and we don't want to be chasing, but I think we can play a lot better than we did last night and we were still close to coming away with a win," Eller said Tuesday. "We had the lead a couple of times (2-1 and 4-3). I'm hopeful."

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm1: Trotz on team's start, adjustments

The process of rebounding from the loss hit full stride during practice Tuesday. Eller was in the middle of it, just like he was in the middle of many Game 1 storylines.

On Tuesday, he took the hot lap for the first time, chosen to replace coach Barry Trotz, who had been doing it since Game 6 of the conference final. The Capitals change the skater for the practice tradition each time they lose.

Why was Eller chosen?

"It's a secret," he said, laughing.

Eller was noticeable throughout Game 1, often for the wrong reasons. He was on the ice for three goals against and missed a golden opportunity during the final minute with goaltender Braden Holtby pulled for an extra attacker, fanning on a pass from Tom Wilson. Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb did hit Eller's stick from behind as he was shooting.

"Yeah, when you slow it down and you watch it and all that, you're going, 'Just tap it in,'" Trotz said. "But when you're going 100 miles an hour and everybody's screaming and you might be exhausted at that point [and] right at the end there was a two-handed chop on his stick too, which gets in that triangle and you miss it by an inch. It's a game of inches. I mean, we tie it up there, who knows? I think both teams can be better."

Video: Tarik El-Bashir on Caps needing more from top guys

The Capitals have identified where they need to improve, and it begins in the defensive zone, especially around their net.

"I think our forwards had pretty good pressure last night on their rush plays," Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "They didn't get a ton of Grade A [chances] off the rush; we were OK in that department. Down around our net, little plays around the net and then point shots, we have to be a little better in that area."

The first goal by Vegas was a point shot by defenseman Colin Miller with traffic in front. The second goal, by forward William Karlsson, was scored from the goal line. Forward Reilly Smith, unattended on the doorstep, scored the third goal after getting to a loose puck. Fourth-line forward Ryan Reaves scored from almost the same spot to tie the game 4-4, and linemate Tomas Nosek scored the game-winner with a one-timer 2 feet from the crease after slipping his defender.

The Capitals also need to clean up the neutral zone, eliminating the turnovers and sloppy play that keyed the transition of the Golden Knights. More than in other series, focus must be placed there because of how aggressive Vegas is.

"It makes it important that you are managing that puck and getting it deep on them because they definitely track hard and you are not getting anything off the rush," Washington forward Jay Beagle said.

Offensively, the Capitals believe they will be OK. They scored four goals in the first 41:10 of Game 1, bringing Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury back to earth a bit after a dominant showing through the first three rounds.

"I think last night just goes to show we can get a win here if we play the right way and we tighten up a little bit on the discipline and execute a little better and be a little sharper," Eller said. "I like our chances."

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