- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Washington Capitals have spent the last two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins crawling out from a 3-1 deficit. They’ve controlled the puck, been more patient and made timely adjustments.

The hard work paid off and the Capitals had their best performance of the playoffs Monday with a 5-2 win in Game 6.

For a deciding Game 7, however, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said his team can’t expect momentum to carry over.

“This is the first time this series Pittsburgh has their back against the wall as well,” Trotz said. “You’re going to see their best game, their most desperate game of the series. We still have our back against the wall. … If we want to keep playing, we have to be our best.”

Game 7 is Wednesday at the Verizon Center at 7:30 p.m.

This is the 10th Game 7 in 15 playoff series during the Alex Ovechkin era. The Capitals are only 3-6 in those games.

Since hiring Trotz in 2014, the Capitals have had two other game sevens, both in 2015. The Capitals had a 2-1 first-round win over the New York Islanders, then dropped a 2-1 game in overtime to the New York Rangers.

Asked if there was a hump the Capitals needed to get over in those games, Trotz said he liked the way his teams played — specifically against the Rangers.

“I just think with this group that I’ve been with, our game sevens have been pretty solid,” Trotz said. “You’re not going to win every one. But I thought our game was really, really quite good in both those game sevens.”

For these playoffs, the Capitals have gotten crucial players to step up at the right time. Besides the decision to move Alex Ovechkin to the third line, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov have both re-emerged as difference-makers.

Both players lead the Capitals in this series with four goals and three assists each. Backstrom said the group reset after going down 3-1 in Game 4.

“If you look at the games, even if it was 3-1 to them, I thought we actually played better than the results,” Backstrom said. “We just kept going. I think the difference is the last two games is maybe we capitalize on the chances too and really made sure we stayed on them, too.”

Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Backstrom have scored 10 of the Capitals‘ 18 goals against the Penguins. Andre Burakovsky has found his rhythm as well, adding another three goals in the last two games.

The Capitals have gotten back to playing loose, which was the goal after Game 4. At one point, Washington had eight unanswered goals on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury until Pittsburgh scored two straight goals at the end of Game 6.

Players didn’t say they’d solved Fleury — but the Capitals have been able to score from angles that previously weren’t available. In Game 5, Kuznetsov scored on an angle straight from the goal line.

Before Game 5, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said there was no more room for any margin of error and players needed to step up.

“I think we’re a really good team when we play desperate, and this is about as desperate as you can get,” Shattenkirk said.

And with Game 7 comes more pressure. The Capitals have come back from 3-1, but they’re still the team with the best regular-season record. There are expectations that the Capitals should advance.

The Rangers were in that same scenario in 2015 and it was Washington that blew a 3-1 series lead.

Defenseman John Carlson acknowledged the pressure.

“You have to work your way through it,” Carlson said. “You have to find ways to get better, play better and move on. It’s important to stay focused on the next game and not worry about if you won or lost the last one, you move on and you put all your effort into the next one.

“Yeah, we had a good game [Monday]. It’s over now and we’ll work on ways to adjust even better next game. We have to come out and have a way better effort than we did tonight. That’s our mindset.”

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