- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2017

Prior to the start of Game 5, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz repeatedly said he expected a good game out of his top players. More so, he stressed the need for maximum effort from his team with the Pittsburgh Penguins only needing one win to advance.

Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin — all leaders of the Capitals — were there to answer.

The Capitals extended their playoff hopes with a 4-2 win — including two third-period goals in just 27 seconds to give Washington the lead — on Saturday at the Verizon Center. The Capitals still trail in the series, 3-2.

“We are big boys, so I think we understand what we have to do and if we play well, if we don’t play well,” Ovechkin said. “We knew in the big games you have to play hard. … You can see we turn it around and in the third period everybody was on the same page. You can see how calm we are at the end: no panic.”

The Capitals entered the third period down 2-1, but came out with a sense of urgency. Backstrom tied the game with a wrist shot 2:49 into the period, giving him his third goal of the series.

Afterward, it was Kuznetsov and Ovechkin who put the Capitals on top, each with the precision needed to beat Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Kuznetsov hit the back of the net from an angle along the goalline at 7:20 to give the Capitals a lead.‌

Just 27 seconds later, Ovechkin made it 4-2 when he skated through various Penguins defenders, recovered the puck off the face of Pittsburgh defenseman Ron Hainsey and drilled it in from the right side off a rebound.

Of the Capitals’ 13 goals against the Penguins in the second round, Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have combined for nine of them.

“I thought all of them responded,” Trotz said. “Obviously, Backy, Ovi, Kuzy, they all scored. I mean, those are our key contributors. … It was more of our lineup that we were getting contributions and that has been the success that we had during the regular season. No different than Pittsburgh, you have multiple lines that can contribute. Today, we did.”

But before the Capitals’ rally, the outcome was in doubt.

The Penguins took a 2-1 lead on a Phil Kessel power-play goal in the second period, silencing the Verizon Center crowd.

After defenseman Nate Schmidt was called for a holding penalty on Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who returned after missing Game 4 because of a controversial concussion received in Game 3, Pittsburgh patiently worked the puck into Washington’s zone. Evgeni Malkin found a wide open Kessel, who scored 4:20 into the second period.

Asked before the start of Game 5 how the series got away from them, Capitals defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk pointed to penalties.

“There’s been some untimely penalties, which I think has hurt us,” Shattenkirk said. “Good or bad calls, that’s unfortunately out of our control. There’s been a few moments where we’ve taken our foot off the pedal a little bit.”

Down only a goal with the season on the line, the Capitals spent the rest of the period looking lethargic. They mistimed passes, waited too long to shoot and had only six shots on goal in the second.

The first period had played out very similarly to the rest of the series: the Capitals dominated the offensive zone while the Penguins took advantage of Washington’s miscues.

Pittsburgh struck first when Carl Hagelin capitalized on a Washington turnover, shooting the puck past goaltender Braden Holtby’s glove to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead with 9:36 remaining in the first. The Capitals went most of the period searching for an answer. Washington found it when Trotz made a temporary adjustment.

Trotz and the rest of his staff met Thursday to examine ways to produce more goals. The solution, Trotz thought, was to move Ovechkin down to the third line and Andre Burakovsky to the first.

But Trotz changed his mind and put Burakovsky back with the third unit at the end of the opening period.

Burakovsky scored with just 29.7 seconds remaining in the first, giving the Capitals their first third-line goal of the series. Burakovsky spent the rest of the night mostly on the first line.

Scoring goals had been a problem for the Capitals against the Penguins, despite plenty of chances. Through four games, the Capitals had only scored nine goals. Washington entered Saturday’s game with 142 shots on goal.

On Saturday night, the Capitals scored goals when they needed them most, staying alive in the process.

“It’s perfect,” Backstrom said. “That’s what it’s all about. This is great.”

In last year’s series, the Penguins closed the series out in Pittsburgh in Game 6. The series now returns to Pittsburgh on Monday for Game 6 with the Capitals getting a chance to make amends.

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