202

Resilient Capitals hope to keep unlikely postseason run alive

Tampa Bay Lightning center Cedric Paquette (13) tries to get past Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), and defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) for a rebound on goaltender Braden Holtby during the second period of Game 5 of the NHL Eastern Conference finals hockey playoff series Saturday, May 19, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
AUDIO - HEAR THE FINAL CALL AS THE LIGHTNING TOOK GAME 5 BY A 3-2 SCORE

Download audio

WASHINGTON — When the Washington Capitals host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, they will be skating in their 100th game of the season. The Capitals are confident it won’t be their last.

“We’ve dealt with a lot this year,” defenseman John Carlson told reporters in Tampa before the Capitals chartered back to D.C. on Sunday. “I think these guys are a very capable group that is very capable of winning the next game.”

The Capitals don’t have a choice. Tampa Bay leads the series 3-games-to-2 with Washington now facing elimination for the first time this postseason.

“We don’t like to make it easy on ourselves,” said goaltender Braden Holtby after the Capitals dropped Game 5. “I think we’re pretty comfortable in the uncomfortable situations, which has been a great characteristic of our group. And now is when you use all that past adversity and past challenges of overcoming it to your advantage.”

Indeed, a common theme throughout the Capitals’ season has been their resiliency. Since overcoming a shaky start to the year in October and early November, the Capitals have prided themselves on their ability to rebound from defeats and to rally in the face of adversity.

Consider their unlikely climb atop the Metropolitan Division during the regular season, which came on the heels of losing six regulars from last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning roster. The Capitals also dealt with a number of early-season injuries and stumbled past the quarter pole of the season with a modest 11-10-1 record.

But after an admittedly slow start to the season, the Capitals ended the year on a 38-16-6 run starting Nov. 22 to propel themselves to an eighth division title in 11 seasons.

“Our team this year definitely wasn’t a Cinderella story,” Carlson said. “But I think for being a division winner, we had to claw our way most of the season. Things didn’t always go our way. I think we can draw from that for what’s upcoming for us.”

What lies ahead for the Capitals is the first of two potential must-win games as they look to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. A Washington win over the Lightning on Monday would force a decisive Game 7 Wednesday in Tampa Bay.

“This group seems to never do anything really easy,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “They have responded all the time. That’s the grace in it all, is that they do respond, they battle for each other, they find another level. We’ll have to do that next game.”

The Capitals can also draw on their first-round series victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, which came after overcoming a 2-0 series deficit. The Capitals responded with a double overtime win in Game 3 on the road- the first of four consecutive wins to close out the series.

Washington also showed tremendous resolve in their second-round series win over the rival Pittsburgh Penguins. After dropping the series opener at home, the Capitals won four of the next five games, including a series-clinching OT win in Game 6 despite playing without Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky (injuries) and Tom Wilson (suspension).

“We’ve had to work for everything we’ve got,” said Holtby. “That’s why it shows when it gets uncomfortable, we stay to our game and stick together. We’re going to need our best effort of that in Game 6 to push this thing forward.”

Catch Game 6 between the Capitals and Lightning Monday night at 8:00 p.m. on WFED 1500AM. Pregame coverage with John Walton, Ken Sabourin and Ben Raby begins at 7:45 p.m.