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NHL Playoffs: Capitals overwhelm Penguins to force decisive Game 7

NHL Playoffs: Capitals overwhelm Penguins to force decisive Game 7

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Capitals are well aware of their franchise's inglorious past, one filled with unmet expectations and gut-wrenching collapses.

And they don't care. It's not 1992. It's not 1996, 2009 or 2016 for that matter.

The Capitals have spent the better part of the season insisting this time, things will be different. That they're not burdened by the weight of the team's history of playoff flameouts, one most of the guys in red, white and blue had nothing to do with.

Backed up to the precipice against a rival that's tormented them for decades, the Capitals finally punched back. Hard.

Andre Burakovsky scored twice, Nicklas Backstrom got his sixth of the playoffs and Washington beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Monday night to force a Game 7 in their seesaw Eastern Conference semifinal.

This is the fourth time the two teams will meet in a winner-take-all. The Penguins have won each of the previous three. Not that it bothers the Capitals.

"I haven't been here forever but, one, I've never been in a Game 7," said Washington forward T.J. Oshie, who opened the scoring with a first-period power-play goal . "Two, I've never been past the second round. I know how much it would mean to me and I imagine it would be the same to every guy in this locker room."

The Capitals are as close as they've been to their first appearance in the conference finals in 19 years after rallying from a 3-1 series deficit by sprinting by Pittsburgh in the third period at home in Game 5 and then delivering a masterful performance 48 hours later in a city that's often been a burial ground for once-promising seasons.

A year ago, Washington trailed Pittsburgh 3-1 in the second round, won Game 5 at home only to fall in overtime of Game 6. Intent on not repeating history yet again, the Capitals jumped on the defending Stanley Cup champions early and didn't relent until the things were well in hand and a once raucous arena was largely empty.

"Since Game 3 we've had a sense of calmness about what we're doing," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "We're having fun now. The fun part has been the obstacle."

Jake Guentzel picked up his playoff-leading ninth goal and Evgeni Malkin added another 52 seconds later late in the third period to make the score look cosmetically better, but the Penguins were never in it. The Capitals controlled play throughout. Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 21 saves and received little help in front him.

"I think we were probably guilty of making a few mistakes early on and then probably chasing our mistakes after that," said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who had an assist in 20 minutes but was largely a nonfactor in his second game back after missing Game 4 with a concussion.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan tinkered with his line combinations reuniting the "HBK" line (Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel) that played an instrumental part in the team's Cup run last spring. Sullivan also moved rookie Guentzel alongside Malkin and put Conor Sheary with Crosby.

None of it worked as Washington pushed the Penguins around. Crosby took a nasty spill in the first period when he was slammed into the end boards head-first while he tangled with Carlson. He remained in the game but found little room to work.

Then again, neither did any of his teammates as Washington dominated.

Pittsburgh's first shot in the opening 17 minutes was a 136-foot flip by Brian Dumoulin that made its way to Braden Holtby, who easily stopped it for the first of his 16 saves. By then the Capitals already had a 1-0 lead on Oshie's fourth of the playoffs.

It wasn't unlike most of the first four games of the series, when Washington would control play for long stretches only to have Pittsburgh expertly counter on its way to a 3-1 advantage.

This time, there would be no response by the Penguins.

Pittsburgh had trouble executing even the simplest of plays. Defenseman Ron Hainsey went to boards to retrieve a loose puck in the Penguins end only to get checked by Burakovsky, who skated away with the puck and stuffed a shot past Fleury 6:36 into the second .

Holding two-goal leads in the postseason has been a tenuous proposition at best, with 13 times teams letting them away so far in the postseason.

Yet instead of simply trying to protect its advantage, Washington kept pressing. Backstrom flipped a wrist shot by Fleury 16 seconds into the third to make it 3-0 and when John Carlson fired one past Fleury 11:17 into the third, the arena began emptying out.

It was a sweet moment for the Capitals, but they're aware an even more blissful one awaits if they can duplicate their performance on Wednesday.

"We're going to have to be better," Oshie said. "We're going to have to push them out. That's going to be a tough task but I think it's something we have the right guys and the right mentality right now to do that."

Notes 
Penguins D Trevor Daley did not play after getting hit by Washington's Tom Wilson in Game 5. Chad Ruhwedel filled in. ... Washington went 2 for 4 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 3.

Best of NHL: Islanders shut down Capitals to snap 5-game skid

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Best of NHL: Islanders shut down Capitals to snap 5-game skid

NEW YORK -- Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves after getting a vote of confidence from his coach, and the New York Islanders beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 on Monday night to snap a five-game winless streak.

Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd and John Tavares scored goals for the Islanders, who built a 3-0 lead early in the second period and ended Washington's four-game winning streak.

It was the second time this season that Halak held an opponent to a single goal and the third time New York has allowed one goal as a team. Halak's strong performance came after coach Doug Weight sternly defended his goaltenders following the team's skate Monday morning. New York was 0-3-2 over its last five games.

Braden Holtby made nine saves for the Capitals before being pulled after the Islanders scored their third goal 1:34 into the second period. Philipp Grubauer made 17 saves in relief, and Dmitry Orlov scored Washington's only goal (see full recap).

Bernier makes 39 saves as Avalanche top Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Bernier stopped 39 shots and Mark Barberio scored in the third period, helping the Colorado Avalanche top the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Monday night.

Blake Comeau added an empty netter against his former team as Colorado won its second straight after a string of six losses in seven games. It was Comeau's seventh of the season.

Barberio put the Avalanche ahead to stay 6:17 into the third. His slap shot off the rush hit Pittsburgh forward Riley Sheahan in front and got past goaltender Tristan Jarry.

Bernier was on track for his second shutout of the season before Phil Kessel scored his 15th goal for Pittsburgh at 19:48. Bernier beat the Penguins for just the second time in 10 career games (see full recap).

Perreault, Jets beat Canucks to snap skid
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Mathieu Perreault scored two goals and added an assist to help the Winnipeg Jets halt a three-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.

The win was the Jets' seventh straight victory at home and they have points in their last 11 games (10-0-1) at Bell MTS Place.

The Canucks have lost three straight in regulation for the first time this season.

Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Morrissey and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored for Winnipeg (18-8-5). Ehlers' 14th of the season was on the power play and gave him goals in three straight games.

Brock Boeser scored his team-leading 16th goal for the Canucks. He also extended his goal-scoring streak to three games.

Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves for Winnipeg (see full recap).

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Reversing home fortunes

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Reversing home fortunes

VOORHEES, N.J. — Home is where the _____.

For the Flyers, filling in this blank hasn’t solicited positive responses this season.

Of course, the Flyers haven’t provided positive results.

After trouncing the Capitals and Panthers in their first two home games of the season, the Flyers have dropped 10 of their last 12 in South Philly. They gifted the Arizona Coyotes their first win of the season back in late October and have turned in lethargic efforts against the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins in recent weeks.

More alarmingly, the Flyers have just a 1-2-5 record in one-goal games, a situation in which home ice should come into play as one of the deciding factors. The losing and frustration culminated with a barrage of boos and a “Fire Hakstol” chant during that 3-1 loss to the Sharks on Nov. 28.

“It doesn’t help, but we’re not doing anything to help ourselves,” goaltender Brian Elliott said Monday. “You’re trying not to listen to any crowd. You’re just trying to block it all out and stay in that moment, just playing with your team out there, and that’s probably how I approach it. It’s taking that road style hockey game and bringing it here.” 

“I think the atmosphere will be better,” Sean Couturier said. “When you’re losing, it’s tough. We were trying so hard to get a win. It didn’t seem to come, and then finally to get one, two and then three. We’re kind of on a roll, but at the same time, it’s only three games. We’re pretty excited to be back home and keep winning.”  

Tuesday, the team will be looking to change its Wells Fargo Center fortunes when it opens up another five-game homestand, its longest of the season, beginning with a visit from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flyers are hopeful they can carry over their success from a three-game sweep in Western Canada when the Leafs hit town. 

“We keep it simple on the road. We went on the road and made a pact to keep it simple and play the right way,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We’ve had one of the best home records over the past three years. I think we do alright at home. Obviously, we’ve had a slow start at home, but we’ll pick it up.”

Not that the previous 14 home games have been irrelevant, but the final 27 games on home ice will have a much greater emphasis as 23 of their final 28 games come against Eastern Conference opponents, with 12 of those directly within the Metropolitan Division.

“From now on, games are going to get more and more important,” Couturier said. “Every point is pretty much necessary for us, especially when you lose 10 games in a row. You get behind in the standings and you’re chasing. We've got to stick together and get some more wins.”

'Ghost' feels for Wentz
Shayne Gostisbehere knows what it's like to wake up the way Carson Wentz did on Monday morning.

Wentz tore the ACL in his left knee during Sunday’s 43-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. 

In November 2014, Gostisbehere tore the same ACL in his knee during his rookie season with the Phantoms just five games in and never returned to action. Faced with months of rehab, there were moments when "Ghost" didn’t feel as if the injury was improving.   

“I saw the game yesterday,” Gostisbehere said. “I hope for the best for him. The rehab is really grueling. It's ups and downs. Some days you’re going to feel great, feel like you’re getting ahead of the game, and other days you feel you’re never going to get better. I think overall he’s going to have the best care in the world. I think obviously you hope for the best and hope it’s not that bad.”

Elliott named third star
Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott was named the NHL’s third star of the week after posting three road wins with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.

“It’s great when you get recognized,” Elliott said. “Whenever you get those recognitions as a goalie, it really shows how the group has been playing, especially this last week here. It’s probably my name up there, but definitely the whole team deserves that.”