Down 3-1 in their best-of-seven series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps know they have a tough hill to climb if they hope to avoid another second round exit. Not many teams have been able to overcome a 3-1 deficit, but the Caps are finding confidence from an unexpected source: last year's playoffs.
Not only did the Capitals hold a 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers, they came within 1:41 of winning the series before the Rangers tied Game 5 and eventually stunned the Caps in seven games.
"We're in a reverse situation last year where we, Game 5, we had a team that basically pretty well down and out," head coach Barry Trotz said, "and they threw a puck to the net and it hits one of our defenseman, goes in and they end up winning in overtime and that sort of changed it."
Now that the Caps find themselves on the other end of the 3-1 deficit, they are drawing on that experience as a guide for how to climb back against the Penguins.
"It's a very similar situation," Braden Holtby said. "I think we're up 3-1 last year against the Rangers and it could have been 3-1 the other way. Same as this year. It could be 3-1 in our favor pretty easily. A couple breaks go the other way so in realizing that, you can take a page out of what the Rangers did and stuck with what they were doing last year."
It's a lesson Washington has struggled with over its history.
In the Bruce Boudreau era when the Caps developed a reputation as a team that could not win when it mattered, the players routinely abandoned the gameplan whenever they began to struggle. That's a mistake Trotz is determined to prevent the Caps from repeating again.
"We have to find another way to not really reinvent the game but just execute better, be a little sharper," Trotz said. "We get a chance to score, we've got to bury our chances. Those are the things that matter and then we've got to stay with it."
With their win in Game 5, the Rangers stole the momentum and suddenly the Caps began to feel the pressure in a series that had seemed well in hand. The lesson is clear: one win is all it takes to change a series.
"It can spiral pretty quick," Tom Wilson said. "When your'e the team that's up 3-1, you lose the game tomrrow night, it's 3-2 then we steal another one. It's not like we're down 8-1 in the series. ... It's the first team to four and they're only at three."
"We've got to have a belief that you win one, win the first period, keep going and if you win one, then things can change," Trotz said. "I mean we were prime candidates to see it first hand in the Rangers series last year so, hopefully all we can do is look at the game in front of us and go from there."
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