For the Caps, there's no margin for error and no tomorrow if they lose. They come into Game 5 on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins trailing the series 3 games to 1. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on NBC. Tune in to CSN for pregame coverage at 6 p.m. Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
What's on the line: If the Caps lose Game 5, their season is over and Pittsburgh will advance to the conference finals. If the Caps win, the two teams will square off again, this time in Pittsburgh for Game 6 on Tuesday.
Long odds: It should come as no surprise that teams who trail a best of seven series 3-1 rarely win. In the history of the NHL, teams with a 3-1 series lead go on to win 90.3 percent of the time. The good news for the Caps, however, is that the last two times they have been in this position (2008, 2009) they won their next to force a Game 7. The Caps even won the series in 2009, coming back to down the New York Rangers.
Not as advertised: A series that was billed as Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby has not gone the way many have expected as both teams have been able to shutdown the other's top playmaker. Through four games, Ovechkin has managed only one goal and two assists while Crosby has been held to only one assist. It seems like we're about due for a big-time performance from one or both players.
Shaking things up: Based on what we saw in Thursday's practice, the offensive lines will look a little different for the Caps with Evgeny Kuznetsov centering the top line, Nicklas Backstrom on the second between Andre Burakovsky and Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams moving down to the third. Jay Beagle was the center on the third line, but it's unclear if that was the plan going forward or if that was due to the fact that Mike Richards was sick and did not practice. Barry Trotz said at Saturday's morning skate that everyone would be available so Richards should be fine for Game 5. Splitting up Backstrom and Ovechkin should allow Trotz the ability to match Backstrom against Sidney Crosby's line while freeing up Ovechkin for more offense.
Schmidtuation update: Trotz would not divulge his lineup, but Nate Schmidt is expected to be back in on Saturday after being a healthy scratch for Game 4.
When asked what he wanted to see from Schmidt, Trotz said, "Consistency. Just be real consistent in your thought process. Move the puck, use your skill set and make good decisions with that skill set."
Letang, Fehr return: Veteran defenseman Kris Letang returns to the lineup for Pittsburgh after serving a one-game suspension for a high hit to Marcus Johansson. Letang is undeniably the Peguins' most imporant player on defense averaging 29:13 per game in ice time this postseason. Should they lose the series, Washington's inability to take advantage of his absence in Game 4 will be seen as the major turning point.
Olli Maatta took part in Saturday's morning skate, but he will not be is not yet ready to return. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan declared everyone else a game-time decision. Eric Fehr, however, told reporters that he fully expects to be in the lineup. Fehr missed Game 4 with an undisclosed injury.
Quick start: The Caps are a team that seems to play better as a game goes on, but they cannot afford another slow start. The Caps have a plus-8 goal differential in the third period for this postseason, but a minus-1 in each of the first two periods.
Karl Alzner recognized the importance of a fast start saying the first period Saturday would be "the most important first period of they year."
Powerless: With only nine goals in four games, the Caps have got to find a way to score if they hope to extend the series. A major part of that will be reignating the power play. The Caps have only one power play goal against Pittsburgh in 12 tries and none in the past two games. To this point, it's been a physical, nasty series so chances are the Caps are going to get their opportunities in Game 5. They just need to convert.