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playoffs

Capitals have chance to prove they're different

Time has come for Washington to show it can finally overcome Penguins, go far in playoffs

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Capitals wanted a do-over after losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Eastern Conference Second Round last season.

Now they have their chance.

The Capitals are essentially in the same place they were a year ago after losing 3-2 in Game 4 of their second-round series this season against the Penguins on Wednesday. As they did last season, they trail the Penguins 3-1 in the best-of-7 series and need a win in Game 5 at Verizon Center on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports) to keep their dream of winning the Stanley Cup alive.

Then, they'll have to defeat the Penguins twice more after that or be eliminated in the second round again.

The Capitals haven't advanced beyond the second round since they made their lone Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998. Another second-round loss to the Penguins after winning the Presidents' Trophy for the second season in a row would be a painful déjà vu. 

But throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been saying this team is different. Last week, he even had what he called, "My swear-to-God moment." With no bible handy, Trotz placed his hand on a nearby mobile phone and declared, "We're in a different place."

If the Capitals really are different, this is their chance to prove it. 

Video: Capitals on the brink of elimination after loss

"We still have games left and the character on this team has been outstanding, and I'm pretty sure we understand that right now it's Game 7s every game," captain Alex Ovechkin said Wednesday. "So we're ready for that. It's hard, but we're looking forward."

Looking back would probably cause the Capitals to start shaking their heads in disbelief about the opportunity they missed in Game 4. The Penguins were missing their best player, Sidney Crosby, because of a concussion, their best defenseman, Kris Letang, following season-ending neck surgery, and Matt Murray, who was their No. 1 goalie before he sustained a lower-body injury prior to Game 1 of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Penguins won anyway despite being outshot 38-18 and the Capitals holding a 72-38 advantage in shot attempts.
 
Ovechkin pointed the finger of blame directly at himself after he failed to get a point for the first time in the series and played an overall sloppy game, saying, "I have to play much better." 

Ovechkin isn't the only one.

Trotz called out all of his top players. That includes Ovechkin and linemates Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. It also includes goaltender Braden Holtby, who allowed three goals on 18 shots, including one that was accidentally kicked in by tired Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov at the end of a long shift.

Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and a finalist again this season, has a .867 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average in the series and has been consistently outplayed by Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a .937 save percentage and 2.24 GAA in the series.

The Capitals were called for six offensive zone penalties in Game 4. One, on defenseman John Carlson, led to Justin Schultz's game-winning power-play goal 11:24 into the second period after the Capitals had fought back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game. 

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Schultz drills PPG past Holtby

The Capitals also went 0-for-4 on the power play, including a prime chance to tie the game during Matt Cullen's four-minute high-sticking double minor that was cut short by Ovechkin's offensive-zone slashing penalty 41 seconds into the third period.

Some of the Capitals' answers following the loss were similar to ones they gave after their 3-2 overtime loss to the Penguins in Game 4 last season, referencing their character and resilience. The Capitals showed some mettle in battling past the young Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round but the Penguins are not the Maple Leafs.

The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champions and have proven they know how to win in the playoffs. The Capitals have yet to do so.

They reached Game 6 last season before being eliminated in overtime. That wasn't good enough then and would be even more disappointing now, particularly because their roster is likely to undergo significant changes in the offseason with Oshie, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Daniel Winnik eligible to become unrestricted free agents.

"We have to play like we have nothing to lose, play like we are free and just let it all out there," Holtby said. "There's nothing to save it for. When your backs are against the wall, that's when you find out what you're really made of and we've put ourselves in a situation where that's the case, and I think we'll all take a day to make sure we're getting our minds in the right place to have our best game of the year."

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