Caps approaching Game 6 with need for more consistency


SUNRISE, Fla. — The Capitals don’t have to look hard for what’s gone right in the series for them. They also don’t have to do much digging for where it has gone off the rails. 

Those two play styles have often overlapped, mostly leading to disastrous results, which has put the Capitals in a 3-2 series hole entering Game 6 on Friday at Capital One Arena. Should the Capitals not win back-to-back games against the Presidents Trophy-winning Panthers, they’ll be eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth-straight season. 

Washington blew a 3-0 lead Wednesday in Game 5 and lost a 2-1 lead with less than three minutes to play in Game 4 before falling in overtime. 

Now, to save their season, the Capitals will need to rebound better than they have all season long. 

“We’ve got to win a hockey game,” coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday morning. “There’s things we’ve done well in this series and there’s things we haven’t done well. Last night was no different. We’ve got to take those things that we did well, and the positives, and bring that for a more consistent amount of time.” 

The team left South Florida in the morning Thursday and did not practice. They’ll have a typical morning skate Friday morning before puck drop Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Between then, they’ll have to bounce back from not just back-to-back losses, but two mentally deflating losses as well. 

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There's an alternate path for the Capitals, one that’s not hard to imagine, that includes heading home with a 3-2 series lead at the worst. Should they have closed out the games they seemingly had in hand, it’s not out of the question that Game 5 could have been a close-out game. 

“There should be a lot of confidence from the things that we have done well in the series, the games that we have won, the times that we played well,” Laviolette said. “But you really have to work for a clean game against a team like Florida, who’s dynamic with what they do. Again, those will be the points of emphasis moving forward. We’ll get on the ice tomorrow and get ready for a big game.”

Laviolette isn’t far off, as the Capitals have played the game they’ve wanted to against the Panthers for significant portions of the series. 

They were the better team in Game 1, won Game 3 at home 6-1, nearly stole Game 4 with a stellar Ilya Samsonov performance in net and led 3-0 in the second period of Game 5 before the wheels totally fell off. 

The problem is they only nearly stole Game 4 and the wheels did indeed fall off in Game 5. 

“We just didn’t control enough of the play, I thought,” Laviolette said. “To get to that point, when we were up by three, I thought we were again good and tight defensively, we controlled their rush a little bit. I thought we did a better job of possessing the puck and staying in the offensive zone and hunting for offense. That’s the game we need to play.”

While shot attempts and totals significantly favor the Panthers through five games, the Capitals have dominated on special teams and have generally kept high-danger chances even for the entirety of the series. In that respect, they've done what they've wanted to.

But if they’re going to win Game 6, let alone Game 7, they’ll need a more consistent 60 minutes than they’ve gotten in the last two games. If they don’t, Friday will be their last game until the fall. 

“We have to take care of things against a high-powered team that scored a lot of goals this year,” Laviolette said. “So when we’re on it, we do a better job inside the game. When we’re not on it, then that’s when they get their looks and they get their opportunities. We scored some 5-on-5 goals. We scored some power-play goals. I think it’s a constant reminder that we always have to think about the defensive side of things.”

All first-round games of Capitals vs. Panthers will be available regionally on NBC Sports Washington and streamed live on the MyTeams app.

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