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Caps ready to 'accept the challenge' of facing elimination

Caps ready to 'accept the challenge' of facing elimination

When the Caps take to the ice on Saturday for Game 5, it could be for the final time this season. After standing atop the NHL standings for the majority of the season and building a 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Caps are facing elimination for the first time in the 2015-16 campaign. And, as they trail the Pittsburgh Pengins 3-1 in their best-of-seven series, Washington faces long odds of advancing to the conference finals.

It's a challenge the Caps say they are ready to face.

"This group's a confident group," Jay Beagle said. "We've been building towards this all year. We're going after them [on Saturday]."

"We got some work to do but we're excited about the challenge," Tom Wilson said.

That doesn't exactly sound like a team with its back against the wall.

RELATED: 'DESPERATION AND DETERMINATION' WILL DRIVE CAPS IN GAME 5

Despite the position the Caps now find themselves in, there is still a lot of confidence in the locker room. That's because rather than shy away from the challenge ahead of them, the Caps seem to be embracing it.

"We're not where we want to be but it's still life, you know?" Evgeny Kuznetsov said. "We have to accept the challenge and play like a Game 7 every game."

"This groups is not afraid of where we're at," head coach Barry Trotz said. "We know where we're at, we're realists, and at the same time we know that we won a lot of games this year and it didn't happen by accident and you've got to take it one game at a time."

There is a certain level of liberation that comes when a team has nothing left to lose. At this point, the Caps not only face elimination, but the odds are overwhelmingly against them in the series. In order to advance, Washington will have to beat the NHL's hottest team in three straight games including one in Pittsburgh. For those on the outside looking in, losing the series to the Penguins seems like a foregone conclusion.

But for a team that has struggled to put away teams in the postseason, perhaps they will prove to be more adept at coming from behind. After all, the last time the Caps faced a 3-1 deficit, they came back to win the series, defeating the New York Rangers in 2009. The time before that, they managed to force seven games from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008.

As a result, in some weird way the Caps seem to be approaching Game 5 with a positive sense of liberation.

"It's not frustrating," Alex Ovechkin said. "You are in this position and if you're going to be frustrated you're probably not going to have a chance to bounce back and win the game. We just have to win game by game."

Washington also heads into Saturday's game with veteran leadership that this team has lacked over the years.

Justin Williams was brought in for moments like these. The veteran winger's struggles in this series to this point have been well documented, but all that will be forgotten if he can help the Caps stave off elimination.

This is where he really earns his contract.

Williams is a player who knows a thing or two about having the right mindset in the playoffs and he says this team will be ready for Game 5.

"You've got to err on the side of enthusiasm not apprehension," Williams said. "We're going to go out there and play on our toes, not our heels and hopefully it'll work out for us."

MORE CAPITALS: WHAT WILL LINEUP CHANGES DO FOR CAPITALS IN GAME 5?

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.