Game 5 will have a very different feel to it for the Washington Capitals than any game has felt over the course of the season. For the first time all year, the Caps are facing adversity, trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in a best of seven series.
Unlike a team like the Philadelphia Flyers or the Detroit Red Wings who had to battle up to the final week of the season just to reach the playoffs, a postseason berth for the Caps was never in doubt. After running away with the Presidents' Trophy for the top record in the NHL, this Capitals team has not faced any real adversity all season. The question now is how will they respond?
"This will be a new one for us, facing elimination," Nate Schmidt said. "All year you could say that we had opportunities and our back against the wall was losing a game. Now it's you lose a game we go home. I think that this is a good time to see what's really underneath the hood here."
There's no question that facing elimination brings with it a different mindset. For Barry Trotz, he thinks this will be a good opportunity for the players to show who just who this team really is.
"We have our backs against the wall, there's no margin for error," Trotz said. "I always think from a coach's standpoint, you get to see the best of your players, you get to see your true players. When it's all convenient and easy, it's hard to read and sometimes when you have a little bit of adversity and it's not comfortable and it's not convenient, you find out about the true player, the true athlete, the true person."
While they have not faced adversity in terms of their season, the players are looking at how the team has responded when trailing in games as proof of their mettle.
"The games that we've been down a lot going into the third period, we've been great," Karl Alzner said. "I think that we were pretty good last game. I think we were pretty good the game before that so we've been playing with some urgency."
There's no question that the Caps are a team that finishes strong, but the trade-off has been slow starts. Despite having the best record in the NHL in the regular season, the Caps actually gave up the first goal in 44 out of 82 games. Through the playoffs, the Caps have a minus-1 goal differential in each of the first two periods, but are a plus-8 in the third.
Being able to finish strong is a good thing, but another slow start is not going to cut it on Saturday and the team knows it.
Alzner called the first period of Game 5 "the most imporant first period of the year" as allowing Pittsburgh an early lead will grow their confidence and perhaps allow doubt to creep into the minds of the Caps.
For now, however, they remain excited by the fact that for at least one more day, there's still some hockey left to be played.
Said Trotz, "We'll find out what we're all about tonight. That's for sure."