The Washington Capitals kept their season alive Monday night. But now they are facing a test they have often failed: Game 7.
A 3-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals tied the series at three games apiece. Game 7 is Wednesday night in Tampa, Fla.
The Capitals, one victory away from the second Stanley Cup finals appearance in the franchise’s 43-season history, have a 4-11 record in Game 7s. Despite those statistics, Coach Barry Trotz was confident in his squad.
“This team has done a lot of special things this year,” he said.
This is just the third time Washington has made the Eastern Conference finals, and the first since Alex Ovechkin joined the team in 2005. The Capitals rallied from an 0-2 series deficit against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, and in the second round, they finally figured out the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom Washington had not beaten in a playoff series since 1994.
Still, the Capitals have a long history of playoff problems. They are trying to avoid losing a playoff series after taking a 2-0 lead, which has happened six times in club history. They have won only 18 of their 45 playoff series.
Last season, Washington rallied from a 3-1 deficit and forced a Game 7 with Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Penguins then eliminated the Capitals with a 2-0 victory in Game 7 in Washington. In 2015, the Capitals were ahead by 3-1 against the Rangers in the second round and lost three games in a row, including a 2-1 overtime defeat in Game 7.
Devante Smith-Pelly scored the other Washington goal, which came midway through the second period. Goalie Braden Holtby made 24 saves in the shutout.
“We’ve done a really good job in this playoff, especially of just staying in the moment, one game at a game,” Holtby said. “Game 7 is going to be no different.”
Trotz has spoken often about his team’s resiliency, and the way it keeps bouncing back. Teams that have won the first two games of a conference semifinal or final are 39-2 since 1974-75. Trotz and the Capitals do not want that to become 39-3.
“Let’s focus on the inches in front of us and not the yards and the miles ahead of us,” Trotz said. “We’ve just got to climb the mountain. It doesn’t happen very fast sometimes. You take a step, take a breath, take a step, take a breath, and I think we’ve been able to do that and keep it in the moment.”
The Capitals often controlled play in Game 6 with a physical effort. They outshot Tampa Bay, 34-24, and held a 39-19 advantage in hits, a big reason the Lightning could not find many scoring chances.
The Lightning have not scored in nearly five periods. Their last goal came when Ryan Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5. That gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead at that point, but the Capitals have outscored the Lightning by 5-0 since then.
Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper said earlier in the series that he felt the best part of having home-ice advantage meant being able to play a Game 7 at home. Now, the Lightning have that chance.
“We took two on the road, but now we’ve got to go home and make sure we take care of business there,” Cooper said. “Shame on us if we don’t.”