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To make history, Caps must learn from it

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To make history, Caps must learn from it

If the Capitals are going to make some history in these Stanley Cup playoffs, they are going to have to overcome some of their own.

Ten times in their playoff history the Caps have trailed a best-of-seven series three games to two. Eight times they were on the wrong end of the handshake line, losing Game 6 five times and Game 7 three times.

But that also means that twice they managed to fight back to win.

They did it in 1988 when a gritty center named Dale Hunter beat Philadelphia goaltender Ron Hextall in overtime of Game 7 to erase a 3-1 series deficit. And they did it in 2009 when Sergei Fedorov beat a guy named Henrik Lundqvist with the Game 7 winner, which also erased a 3-1 series deficit against the Rangers.

Can these Capitals carve their own path immortality after Monday nights crushing 3-2 overtime loss at Madison Square Garden. Can they rebound from a game in which the Rangers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with 6.6 seconds remaining in regulation and Joel Ward anguishing in the penalty box?

Were about to find out.

We dont change, Brooks Laich said Tuesday when asked about the Capitals mindset heading into Wednesday nights win-or-go-golfing Game 6 at the Verizon Center.

We keep moving forward. Would we have liked to have Game 5? Sure. But I think we played a good game. We were six seconds away from winning. Well rebound and bounce back tomorrow.

The Caps have given no reason to doubt they will. After each of their five playoff losses this spring, they have come back to win the next game. Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby has gone 27 straight NHL games without suffering consecutive losses.

If there is one thing you can say about the Capitals in the post-season its that they have become predictable. Eleven of their 12 playoff games have been decided by one goal, so there is no evidence to suggest Wednesday nights game will be a blowout by either team.

Laich said the reason for the consistency is the newfound demeanor of the team.

I just think we control our emotions a little better, he said. Even when we win were not bouncing off the ceiling; its more of a business atmosphere. And when we lose we know we can bounce back. Were never too high, never too low. Were pretty composed.

How much of that comes from the man behind the bench, who played in 186 career Stanley Cup playoff games?

A lot of that comes from Dale, Laich said. Look at his comments after Mondays game. Hes not panicked. Stuff happens. Good breaks, bad breaks. Its how you react to it. Weve been down before and come back. We approach tomorrow the way we always do, like its one hockey game.

Laich wasnt alone in his resolve. Teammates Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik and Nicklas Backstrom all used the phrase hockey play, a Hunterism used so often by the head coach that it draws chuckles from the media.

The Capitals spent Tuesday breaking down video from Tuesday nights game, but they didnt rewind the Rangers game-tying and game-winning goals in super slow motion to see just how close Holtby was to covering the puck before Brad Richards whacked in the game-tying goal. Or how close Laich and Matt Hendricks were to blocking Marc Staals game-winning shot. Or how close Backstrom was to giving the Caps a 3-1 lead on a backhander that grazed off Henrik Lundqvists arm and off the crossbar.

Thats for us to agonize over.

It is what it is, Green said. Thats playoff hockey. The urgency and mentality and focus are still the same for Game 6.

You just need to refocus and make sure you put it behind you, Hamrlik said. The last time we lost in triple OT we came out harder.

You cant second-guess yourself, Laich said. Its easy for you guys to say what might have changed things, but its an intense hockey game. Its a game of inches and if you like it or not you cant change it.

The only thing the Capitals can change now is the outcome of the series. And that can only happen with a win Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.

Last night was a game we needed, Green said. Now well have to go back to New York for a Game Seven.

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS