- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2015

NEW YORK — There’s no time to exhale, no opportunity to take it easy and no desire to plan for the future. When it comes to the fifth game of the Washington Capitals‘ Eastern Conference semifinal against the New York Rangers on Friday night, the message is clear.

“Let’s go after them,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Let’s not sit back. You can be the hammer or you can be the anvil. I’d rather be the hammer.”

The Capitals entered Game 5 in the team’s best-of-seven series with a 3-1 advantage, and their task seemed simple: Win one of the next three games against the Rangers, and they’d be off to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 17 years.

It is, of course, not that simple — especially against the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the best team in the league — and Brooks Orpik can attest to that. Twice in the past four years, the defenseman has been on a team that held such an advantage, then dropped the final three games to encounter a premature end to the postseason.

One of those instances was just last season, when Orpik and the Pittsburgh Penguins collapsed after taking a 3-1 series lead against, of all teams, the Rangers. They also lost such a lead in 2011 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think it’s one of those things where a lot of teams look at it as we have three opportunities to get rid of a team,” Orpik said, “but when you look at it that way, you get yourself in a lot of trouble letting teams hang around. You’ve really got to treat it like an elimination game for both teams and be as desperate, or more desperate, than them.”

The Capitals have won only three times in the 10 occasions in which they held a two-game lead in Game 5, and they’ve won just one of three opportunities on the road. They had their own similar collapse in recent years, dropping a first-round series to the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 as the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

Eight players from that team remain in Washington — one, injured center Eric Fehr, left and returned — and those memories underscore the urgency with which the Capitals believe they need to finish the job.

“It feels the same, losing every single year,” said defenseman John Carlson, a rookie in 2010. “You’re never satisfied unless you win, and I think that’s the mindset we have to take and bear down and do whatever we can.”

The Rangers did not have home-ice advantage last year, forcing them to win two of those final three games on the road. History may be on their side on Friday: They have won each of their last eight elimination games at Madison Square Garden, dating to 2008.

Twelve players who participated in Game 7 against the Penguins last season have played in a game during this year’s series against the Capitals. One of them, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, said that last rally has rarely been discussed.

“I think we know it’s possible, and it starts with believing that you can do it, but at the same time, you know, it’s important that our focus is just on tonight, first period, and take it from there,” Lundqvist said. “But we also know that if we get a win tonight, they’re going to have a lot of pressure. We’ve been in that spot, too. Let’s just deal with tonight. We have to leave everything out there. Get the start we want, and we’ll take it from there.”

Urgency will motivate the Rangers on Friday, but the Capitals, who already lost a close-out game in the first round when they lost to the New York Islanders in Game 6, won’t be able to simulate that type of desperation.

Matt Niskanen, a teammate of Orpik’s with the Penguins last season, said the focus on Friday has to be on merely winning a game. As for motivation, there shouldn’t be any need to search for it.

“We’re looking at it as an opportunity to beat them,” Niskanen said. “End it tonight. We should be all in for that.”

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