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Dave’s Take: Caps relaxed but energized in NHL playoffs

Washington Capitals left wing Jakub Vrana (13), from the Czech Republic, center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92), from Russia, and left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), also from Russia, celebrate Kuznetsov's goal during the third period of Game 5 in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Saturday, May 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — Attitude does make a difference.

The Washington Capitals can attest to that as the NHL Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning shifts to D.C. for Tuesday’s Game 3 at Capital One Arena.

The Capitals have boldly gone where they have not been in the postseason in 20 years, even though on paper they probably had more talent in previous seasons. But on the ice, this current group of Capitals erased years of frustration and turned doubters into believers.

“I think I like our mentality throughout games and throughout series,” said defenseman John Carlson.

“It’s kind of a little bit more laid back and a little less harsh on ourselves I think than in years past. I think that has allowed us to hit the reset button when we need to or change momentum of a game.”

It’s that kind of thinking that has the Capitals two wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals.

This postseason could have ended like so many others in bitter disappointment for the Capitals, but in Game 5 of the previous playoff series against the Penguins, they demonstrated the ability to handle and adjust to pressure.

After two periods at Capital One Arena, the Penguins had a 3-2 lead in Game 5.

In the second period, the Penguins scored two goals and outshot the Capitals 18-5. It was arguably the Capitals’ worst period of the playoffs and there was a sense this might be the beginning of the end for them.

Instead, as Carlson noted, the Capitals were able to hit the reset button, wowed the home crowd and stunned the Penguins in the third period. The Capitals scored four unanswered goals and outshot the Penguins 14-8 to win the game 6-3 and go up in the series 3-2.

That victory in Game 5 served as the launching pad for the Capitals’ win in Game 6 to wrap up the series with the Penguins.

With the way the Capitals responded to win Game 5, there was little doubt they would prevail — even with Tom Wilson suspended and Nicolas Backstrom sidelined by an injury.

The series with the Lightning is not over, but the Capitals have a swagger without being obnoxious. They are relaxed, but energized. They are determined, but not desperate.

After all these years the Capitals have their attitude just right and there is a growing sense that everything is going to be all right.


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