BOSTON — It didn’t seem to matter that most of the world didn’t believe in the Washington Capitals’ ability to go toe-to-toe with the Boston Bruins. It might’ve been hard to envision several weeks ago that they could be one victory away from knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champions —- and the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 team this season.
But that’s exactly where they are after Saturday’s 4-3 victory in Game 5 at TD Garden, with the Bruins on the brink.
“We’re in a great spot right now. We’ve battled extremely hard to put ourselves here,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I bet a lot of people probably wouldn’t have thought we’d be in this position.”
That wasn’t much of a topic of conversation the Caps’ locker room this series, and it didn’t have to be. Jay Beagle said he never thought of he and his teammates as underdogs, even as everyone else clearly saw it that way.
But Saturday, they didn’t play like underdogs or a seventh-seeded team that squeaked into the playoffs in the final week. They played with the kind of resiliency at tough moments that got the Bruins to the Cup last season, brushing off two goals in 28 seconds and coming up with clutch offense, especially Troy Brouwer’s game-winner with 1:27 left.
Throughout this series, the Bruins have been pointing to themselves and their mistakes as the reason this series hasn’t gone according to play.
“We have to look at ourselves,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “We have to come out harder, with more energy and get emotionally involved a bit quicker than we have the first few games.”
Of course, Claude Julien credited Braden Holtby for bouncing back from some rough goals and the Caps as a team for sticking to their game plan.
“It’s the playoffs, and it doesn’t matter what position you are in the [standings]; you just have to keep pushing and try and win the game,” Caps captain Alex Ovechkin said. “For me personally, I don’t hear what they say. Actually, I don’t care what they’re going to say. Are we bad, are we good or something else. Our job to go out there and to play hockey.”
And play better than the Bruins, something that happened for long stretches in Game 5. Boston dominated when it erased the first two-goal lead of the series and for the minutes after, but the Caps were able to use the intermission to regroup.
“We were able to kind of tighten the screws back up and go to work,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “To get that break, kind of come in here, guys talk, kind of get everything out in the open and go from there. I think the third was a good period.”
It was another back-and-forth frame, like so many this series. Brouwer provided the dagger by sniping one over Tim Thomas’ shoulder on a late power play, a goal that the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner said beat him clean.
“We all looked at each other on the bench as a D core with just kind of our eyes wide open like, ‘Holy smokes, I can’t believe we just scored there.’ That’s a huge goal,” Alzner said. “It’s so emotional, that entire game back and forth, that it’s a little bit of a sigh of relief and you breathe for a second. But it was just amazing.”
Amazing to consider the same Washington team that floundered to 10th and 11th the Eastern Conference as recently as February is now just one victory away from pulling off the same kind of upset that ended its season prematurely in years past.
The Caps would love to score first and put even more pressure on the Bruins, but don’t expect them to change much.
“We just need to keep doing what we’re doing because it seems to be working,” Hendricks said.
Much to the surprise of most, but not the Caps. And while the Bruins are facing elimination, the heat’s also on Washington to prevent a Game 7.
“The one thing we don’t want to do is come back to Boston,” forward Jay Beagle said. “We’ve got an opportunity here to go home and close this out. They’re going to come out hard, and we’re going to see the best we’ve seen from them all year.”
• Stephen Whyno can be reached at email@example.com.
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