Game 5 in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup playoff series is always pivotal. For the Washington Capitals, a backbreaking collapse from a three-goal lead saw them drop Game 5 to the Florida Panthers 5-3 on Wednesday night.
Players were fuming, coaches were disappointed, and fans were flabbergasted. As it stands, momentum lies fully in the hands of the Panthers as Game 6 is on the horizon for Friday night in Washington. But while the stats are against the Capitals in terms of coming back from a 3-2 series deficit, we need not look back too far in the recent past to see that it’s not an impossible feat.
Washington lost Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final just four years ago. Similar to the boat they’re in now, the Capitals needed to win a do-or-die Game 6 at home then travel back to Florida for a decisive Game 7. They did just that.
The Capitals won Game 6 against Tampa 3-0, then after Alex Ovechkin scored just 62 seconds into Game 7, Washington advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with another shutout, 4-0. They unforgettably took home the hardware two weeks later.
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Nine years prior, the Caps did the near-impossible and came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the New York Rangers to win that series after three consecutive wins. You have to go all the way back to 1988 to find the previous time Washington came back from a deficit after Game 5 to win the series, when they overcame another 3-1 series deficit to Philadelphia to win Game 7 in overtime.
So, it’s been done before. But here’s the thing: in between those years, the Capitals also lost 12 series when down three games to two, dating back to 1986 (according to the Caps’ annual playoff guide). They’re 3-12 when in the exact scenario which they currently find themselves. It’s extremely rare, but not impossible for Washington to claw its way to a series win.
The Tampa series in 2018 should give Caps fans hope, even if this team is not the same as the one that hit the ice during their Cup run. They could still shake off their crushing Game 5 loss, though, and come back home with vengeance on Friday night.
“We've got to shake this one off,” T.J. Oshie said after Game 5. “We've got to reset here. Obviously, you don’t want to be down 3-2, especially when we felt like we had a chance to go up 3-1 in the last game. You just got to regroup…We’re gonna be a little pissed off here tonight, wake up tomorrow, and head home and get back to work.”
Braden Holtby was the Caps’ saving grace during their 2018 series against Tampa, allowing zero goals in the final two games to push Washington to the Final. Ilya Samsonov (or possibly even Vitek Vanecek) will need to play the role of savior for the Capitals over their next two games to replicate that kind of magic.
Considering Samsonov had been stellar all series leading up to Game 5, there is still hope he can steal the Capitals a win despite his performance on Wednesday. But one thing is for sure: if Washington finds itself with a multi-goal lead again on Friday, they mustn’t play the same way they did in Game 5 or late in Game 4 when a pulled-goalie goal allowed the Panthers to tie the game and then win it in overtime.
“Giving up a three-goal lead -- I don't know how many times we've done that this year,” Oshie said. “This swings momentum. They’re tough in a game. When it’s on your side, you've got to try to keep it, not give them momentum, make them earn it.”
All first-round games of Capitals vs. Panthers will be available regionally on NBC Sports Washington and streamed live on the MyTeams app.