WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin knew the challenge coach Barry Trotz had put in front of him and the Washington Capitals' other top players by calling them out before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
Ovechkin was the first to acknowledge that he hadn't played well in Game 4 and that the Capitals needed more from him to stay alive against the Penguins.
"We are big boys," Ovechkin said. "So I think we understand what we have to do if we play well [or] if we don't play well."
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With the Capitals' season on the line, they responded with goals from Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin in the third period to rally for a 4-2 win at Verizon Center.
"The leadership did all the good things for us tonight," Trotz said. "They really did."
As a result, the Capitals, who trail 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, forced a Game 6 in Pittsburgh on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). They were in this same position a year ago against the Penguins and saw their season end with a 3-2 loss in Game 6 on Nick Bonino's overtime goal.
They're happy to get a shot at redemption and a chance to force a Game 7 back in Washington on Wednesday.
"It's perfect," Backstrom said. "That's what it's all about. This is great."
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Backstrom beats Fleury from circle
The alternative was heading home for another long summer and potential significant changes to the roster. Trailing 2-1 after a lackluster second period where they managed six shots on goal to the Penguins' three, the Capitals had continued to play tight despite all their talk about relaxing and playing their game.
It appeared the Capitals' luck hadn't changed when Ovechkin hit the left post with a wrist shot 1:38 into the third period. But they finally broke through with Backstrom's goal at 2:49.
After working a give-and-go with Andre Burakovsky on the rush, Backstrom whipped a left circle wrist shot in under goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's glove to tie the game at 2-2. Kuznetsov then banked an improbable-angle shot in off of Fleury from below the left circle to give the Capitals their first lead of the game at 7:20.
With the crowd already in frenzy, Ovechkin nearly blew the roof off the place with his goal 27 seconds later that made it 4-2. Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey blocked Ovechkin's initial shot, but he got the puck back and beat Fleury high to the glove side with a wrist shot from between the circles.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Ovechkin strikes on second effort
"We knew in the big games you have to play hard," Ovechkin said. "If you don't shoot the puck or you don't control the puck, you have to do some different things. You can see we turned it around and in the third period everybody was on the same page. You can see how calm we are at the end. No panic. Everybody knew what they had to do."
Because of the Capitals' inability to get out of the second round during his 12 seasons, Ovechkin somehow has the reputation of being a player who doesn't come through in the clutch. But including Saturday, he has 10 goals and 10 assists in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games when facing elimination in his career.
Kuznetsov was so confident Ovechkin would bounce back that he predicted after the 3-2 loss in Game 4 on Wednesday that the Capitals captain would score a goal in Game 5.
"I thought he played well every game," Kuznetsov said. "Sometimes it happens. The bounce [doesn't go] his way or whatever. But I always trust him and I know he's [a] big man and he's our captain and he will be back better than today for sure, much better. He's going to score two goals [Monday]."
The Capitals would love that.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Kuznetsov scores from a sharp angle
Trotz took what seemed to be drastic measures by dropping Ovechkin to the third line with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson and moving Burakovsky up to the top line with Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Desperate to get some scoring from the bottom part of his lineup, Trotz said he explained the move to Ovechkin by comparing it to what the Penguins did last season by playing Phil Kessel on the third line.
"I was looking to try to give us a little more depth scoring and I said, 'Alex, I'm asking you to go down and go with Lars,'" Trotz said. "That's a big line. They needed some finish."
Burakovsky came to life with his first goal of the playoffs and an assist on Backstrom's tying goal. And Ovechkin did his part by scoring his fifth goal of the playoffs.
"For us, I don't think it matters who's going to play with [who] and who's going to play against each other," Ovechkin said. "Right now, it's not a good time to talk about, 'Well, I'm going to play less or I'm going to play more.' We're here to get result and we're here to get successful as a team, not individuals. That's a big part of our success."