If the Capitals can claim the Stanley Cup with a Game 5 win. Here's how they can close out the Vegas Golden Knights.
The first period
A desperate Vegas team will be back home playing in front of its home crowd where the Golden Knights have been extremely formidable all season long. The crowd is going to be pumped and Vegas is going to come out swinging.
The Caps won’t face a tougher push this series than they will at the start of Game 5.
Let’s not forget how Game 4 started. Washington may have ultimately taken a big lead in the first, but the start of that period was all Vegas. If not for the goal post and James Neal’s inexplicable miss on an open net, the Golden Knights could have very easily jumped out to a one or two-goal lead.
It may sound crazy for a period the Caps ultimately took a 3-0 lead in, but they have to play better to start Game 5 than they did in Game 4.
When Michal Kempny and Brett Connolly put Game 4 out of reach in the third period, things devolved quickly. Both teams combined for 42 penalty minutes in the third period alone.
Vegas is going to try to bait the Caps into taking penalties, especially Tom Wilson for obvious reasons and T.J. Oshie who has risen to the bait at times in this series. If frustration starts to mount, things could get nasty.
Time and time again we see in hockey that it’s not the first guy who gets the penalty, it’s the guy who reacts. The Caps need to be careful not to react. They need to know when to walk away and when to take a hit and let the refs sort it out from there.
Vegas is at its best playing a fast game and committing to a five-man forecheck. Considering they are facing elimination and how Braden Holtby has been able to stifle their offense for three straight games, do not be surprised if the Golden Knights are a bit over aggressive.
While most people equate the neutral zone trap to boring hockey, it does generate odd-man breaks when the opposing team is too aggressive, especially when the defensemen get caught pinching too far up.
The opportunities for odd-man rushes are going to be there for the Caps. They need to take advantage.
Game 7 mentality
Game 5 is not a must-win for Washington. The Caps have built a two-game series lead and have some cushion to work with, but they should not approach Thursday’s game with that mentality.
When Washington faced elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, the team turned in one of its best performances of the postseason in a 3-0 win. After the game, the Tampa Bay Lightning players lamented the fact that the Caps played like a desperate team and the Lightning played like a team that had a game to give. Instead of closing it out in Game 6, Tampa Bay gave up its series lead and ended up losing in Game 7 at home.
This series against Vegas sure felt over in the second half of the third period as frustration boiled over for the Golden Knights. Given all the history of the Stanley Cup Final, a 3-1 lead seems insurmountable. A 3-2 lead, however, does not.
The Golden Knights have no reason to believe they can win this series at this point. That could change if they win Game 5. Washington should not allow them back into the series by approaching Thursday like a team with a two-game lead.
Don’t think about Game 6 or Game 7. Just win Game 5.
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