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For Capitals, Game 5 will be 'most important game of our lives'

For Capitals, Game 5 will be 'most important game of our lives'

Following Game 4's loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals faced a very unfamiliar feeling. For the first time perhaps all season, the Caps now face adversity.

With the loss on Wednesday, Washington lost its third straight for only the second time this season. The Caps have been the best team in the NHL almost from start to finish, but now they sit just one loss away from the end of their season.

"Would have felt nice to tie it up 2-2 instead of 3-1," Nicklas Backstrom said. "It’s tough but at the same time we have to take it one game at a time."

"We’re looking forward," Jay Beagle said. "Our back’s against the wall and the most important game of our lives is coming up.”

That may not be overstating it.

After years of playoff disappointments, this year's Caps' team appears built for playoff success. They have an experienced head coach, a Vezina finalist in net, a dynamic top line, scoring depth, veteran leadership and a strong top four on defense. The team used this formula to cruise through the regular season and earn the second Presidents' Trophy in franchise history.

But if the Caps cannot find a way to beat the Penguins in three-straight games, the results will still be the same: A second-round exit and more questions in the offseason.

The team, however, is not thinking about. Instead, their only focus is on putting up a fight and pushing harder in Game 5.

"It’s not the best place to be but we’re proud of ourselves, we’re proud of our game," John Carlson said. "At some point we’ve got to dig deeper, we’ve got to work harder. We’ve got to find a way, no matter what."

"Obviously resiliency is going to be big," Beagle said. "We’re facing a lot of adversity and we’ve got a strong core group here. There’s no doubts in our minds."

Statistically, however, the Caps are fighting an uphill battle.

Per Elias Sports Bureau, teams hat hold a 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have an all-time series record of 261-28. In team history, the Caps are 2-6 when trailing 3-1. Pittsburgh's own streak also makes this a daunting task as the Penguins have not lost three consecutive games since December.

Still, it is not impossible. In fact, the last time the Caps trailed a series 3-1, they came back to win, beating the New York Rangers in 2009. The Caps also trailed Philadelphia 3-1 in 2008 and managed to force a Game 7 before falling in overtime.

For their part, the Penguins expect the Capitals to push back in Game 5.

"We put ourselves in position to close it out in Game 5 and everybody knows it's going to be the most difficult one, the most challenging one," Sidney Crosby said.

As the series transitions to back to Washington, this time the crowd will be back with the Caps. That's something Alex Ovechkin hopes will fuel the team to its second win of the series.

"It’s huge," Ovechkin said. "The fans in our building, they’re going to push us forward and we’re going to play our best game."

For many Caps fans, the loss in Game 4 felt like an elimination game. The odds are against the Caps being able to come back and if they should fall, it will mean another offseason of facing the same questions, of reading the same narrative about this franchise and specifically about Oveckin's playoff futility.

But the Caps aren't done yet. That was the message from the players after Wednesday's game.

"We’re not frustrated," Beagle said. "We have to stay level headed. We’re still in it."

"It’s time for everybody to forget those two games," Oveckin said. "You never know what’s going to happen. We have to win the next one and see if there’s going to be a next."

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

MORE CAPITALS: TRADE TO CAPS POTENTIALLY OFFERS JERABEK WHAT HE NEVER GOT IN MONTREAL

When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

RELATED: THE TRADE TO WASHINGTON OFFERS JERABEK THE CHANCE HE NEVER SEEMED TO GET IN MONTREAL

“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

MORE CAPITALS: WHY THERE'S NO REASON FOR CAPS FANS TO WORRY