Capitals look to complete comeback, expect 'desperate' Penguins
WASHINGTON — Since 2009 the Penguins have won two Stanley Cup titles and since 2005 the Steelers have won two Super Bowl titles.
During that time no Washington team in the four major North American sports has made the conference or league finals in its respective sport.
The Capitals hope to change that Wednesday night when they host the Penguins in the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Washington has not advanced to the Eastern Conference finals since 1998.
“You are going to see their best game, their most desperate game of the series,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said of the Penguins.
It will be a memorable night for Washington sports standards, as the Washington Wizards play at the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in the NBA and the Washington Nationals host the Baltimore Orioles in MLB's battle of the Beltways.
But there is little doubt which of the three events is the most important on the collective psychic of the Washington sports fan, which has watched the Capitals fail time and again in the postseason in the Alex Ovechkin Era.
“It can't come fast enough,” former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, now on 980 AM in Washington, said on the air Tuesday morning of Game 7.
Washington forced Game 7 after winning 5-2 on Monday in Pittsburgh. The last time the Capitals came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a postseason series was in 2009 against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Washington also won Game 6 of that series on the road (by a similar score of 5-3) before winning, 2-1, at home in Game 7.
Trotz was hired after the 2014 season. In his first season Washington won Game 7 in the conference quarterfinals with the Islanders before losing to the Rangers in Game 7 in the semifinals.
“I don't know if there is any hump to get over,” Trotz said of Game 7. “With this group … our games sevens have been pretty solid. You are not going to win everyone.”
The current Capitals have been bolstered since the move of star Ovechkin from the first line to the third line before Game 5.
“When you get into the playoffs, you want to do what is right for the group,” Trotz said. “We wanted to spread our scoring out. There is not a lot of pushback (among players). They just want to win. Alex is our captain. He is good with it.”
Barry Melrose of ESPN agreed with the move.
“It made sense. Ovi wasn't scoring,” Melrose said Tuesday on 106.7 FM in Washington. “The last two games they have dominated. It has been quite a ride for the Washington Capitals. Pittsburgh has not been the same since (Sidney) Crosby came back” after his concussion.
“We had absolutely nothing to lose,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom told reporters after Game 6. “We were down 3-2 (in the series). We had to give it all to make sure we could force this Game 7.”
Backstrom has been an offensive force in the playoffs against the Penguins.
“Backstrom is one of those guys who I think is one of the most underrated players in the National Hockey League,” Trotz said. “He probably gets angry when I talk about him. He has that quiet fire. He is very competitive. He doesn't get enough credit on how competitive he is.”
David Driver is a freelance writer.