SUNRISE, Fla. — It’s not difficult to imagine a very different set of circumstances for the Capitals.
After a 5-3 loss against the Panthers, they trail the best-of-seven 3-2 and will need to win both Game 6 and Game 7 to extend their season. But an alternate universe is not terribly far-fetched.
The Capitals led Game 4 with three minutes left, right after Marcus Johansson was stopped on a breakaway and right when Garnet Hathaway’s shot to the empty-net hit the outside of the cage. The Panthers scored the tying goal a few moments later and won in overtime.
The Capitals led Game 5 on Wednesday 3-0 in the second period and appeared well on their way to a victory and a chance to close the series out at home on Friday. The Panthers scored five unanswered goals to win the game.
It’s not hard to imagine this series with the Capitals holding a 3-1 or a 3-2 series lead after five games. Unfortunately for them, the cold reality is that both games slipped straight through their hands.
“We’ve gotta shake this one off,” T.J. Oshie said. “I think we’re still showing ourselves how we have to play and creating chances, creating offense, keeping their offense in check. We keep getting away from it. We’ve gotta reset here, obviously you don’t wanna be down 3-2, especially when we felt like we had a chance to go up 3-1 in the last game. You just gotta regroup.”
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Washington will have to win Game 6 on Friday at home and then travel back to Florida and beat the Presidents’ Trophy winning Panthers on the road to keep their season alive.
The Panthers lost two or more games in a row just five times in the regular season.
“I felt like we gave that game away,” Nicklas Backstrom said bluntly.
The Capitals’ blown three-goal lead in Game 4, paired with their late blown lead in Game 5, might simply be too much for any team to overcome, much less against the league’s best team, and best offense, from the regular season.
That was what made the loss Wednesday so frustrating, because not only did the Capitals let a home game slip through their fingers, they blew two leads, that looked safe for two different reasons, in about 48 hours.
“Giving up a three-goal lead, I don’t know how many times we’ve done that this year,” Oshie said. “In the playoffs, it should be easier to keep playing the same way and getting pucks deep and all that. But yeah. This swings momentum. They’re tough in a game. When it’s on your side, you’ve gotta try to keep it and not give them momentum, make them earn it.”
The Capitals will be faced with their toughest task of the season in the next few days, and it involves more than just trying to win two hockey games against the league’s No. 1 seed.
They’ll have to put two heartbreaking losses behind them, and somehow come out clean on the other side.
If they don’t summer could be just 60 minutes away.
“We’ve got a veteran group in there, a bunch of guys with a lot of great character," Oshie said. "We’ll be a little pissed off here tonight. Wake up tomorrow, head home and get back to work.”
All first-round games of Capitals vs. Panthers will be available regionally on NBC Sports Washington and streamed live on the MyTeams app.