- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2017

After helping stave off elimination with a 4-2 win over the Penguins in Game 5, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov was told some of his teammates said the Capitals had played tight earlier in the series.

“You think I ever feel tight?” Kuznetsov said. “I always loose, try to enjoy the hockey. I live for those type of games, myself. That’s why we practice all summer, that’s why we play 82 games for those moments.”

Kuznetsov came through in a huge way Saturday night at the Verizon Center, giving the Capitals a 3-2 lead in the third period. Alex Ovechkin added an insurance score immediately after and suddenly the Capitals had two goals in 27 seconds after trailing for most of the game.

But as the Capitals have demonstrated throughout these playoffs, nothing comes easy. The series now heads back to Pittsburgh on Monday for Game 6, and the Capitals will find out if they have a shot at writing a new script this year.

Last year, the Penguins eliminated the Capitals in six games. Again, the Capitals are down 3-2.

“I love coaching in these moments, too,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s nothing better than playoff hockey. I think that’s really what’s key for us. Let’s enjoy this.”

Before the second round started, Trotz said the Capitals were improved because of his players’ recognition of big moments. Through five games, this Capitals squad has had mixed results in those moments.

For Game 5, Trotz called on the team’s leaders to respond.

Washington entered the third period down 2-1 and Nicklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin each had goals.

“You talk about production, when your top guys can make a difference, it motivates everybody to go to the next level,” Trotz said. “I think that’s what good leadership does, people will follow good leadership.”

Trotz admitted the baggage of past playoff failures that dogs the team can make the playoffs less fun.

Even defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was acquired at the trade deadline from St. Louis, noticed the effect it has had on the games.

I think obviously with the history in this locker room, what’s happened in the past, it can cause you to grip your stick a little bit tighter, cause you to just not make the normal plays that we’re capable of making,” Shattenkirk said.

Multiple players, Shattenkirk included, said they had to get back to playing loose. Shattenkirk said the Capitals had to read and react instead of overthinking.

A lot has been made about the number of scoring chances the Capitals have had this series. They lead the series in shots on goal, 174-115. But the Penguins have capitalized on just the right moments and that’s why the Capitals still trail, 3-2.

There were, however, adjustments made for Game 5.

I thought we played a really patient game. I thought it was a lot better than throughout the series,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “I thought we’d been shooting too much and I think we were patient that way, waiting for good shots and it paid off.”

Trotz also made a adjustment to his lines, swapping Ovechkin to the third line for Andre Burakovsky on the first. Trotz discussed the move with Ovechkin, telling him they needed more scoring depth.

The move was part of the emphasis Trotz has put on the team’s leadership when the Capitals have their backs against the wall. Trotz publicly, and unprompted, called out the leaders after Game 4.

Kuznetsov, though, wasn’t worried. He said after Game 4, Ovechkin would bounce back in a big way.

“You still don’t trust me?” Kuznetsov said. “I know him pretty well. Lots of talk around and I know he gonna step up for sure. You can see how he play [Saturday], that’s our captain.”

Trotz said every one of his leaders played well, which impacted the whole group.

“If we have a chance to advance here, or even to win the next game, the same thing will have to happen,” Trotz said. “There’s no room for anybody not to be at their best.”

 

 

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