Caps pursue elusive 4th win


Associated Press

PITTSBURGH

The Washington Capitals don’t need a history lesson. Neither do the Winnipeg Jets for that matter.

The Capitals are well aware of their penchant for letting opportunity after opportunity slip away, frequently at the hands of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And just in case Alex Ovechkin and his teammates ever forget about their playoff missteps, they need only step in front of a camera or a microphone, where the same questions are posed year after year.

There’s only one way to hop off the hamster wheel: close out the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins this week — preferably at the end of Game 6 tonight (7 p.m., NBCSN) in Pittsburgh — to earn the franchise’s first trip to the Eastern Conference finals in 20 years.

“I don’t know if I could tell you exactly what it would mean,” Washington forward T.J. Oshie said.

“None of us have ever been there. We’re just looking to get the job done and maybe after we can talk about the feelings. But right now we still got a lot of work to do.”

Work that in the past has proven to be too much. Four previous times during the Ovechkin Era — including in 2009 and 2017 against Pittsburgh — the Capitals have won three games in the second round of the playoffs. It’s that fourth one that’s proven elusive.

No pressure or anything. All Washington has to do to produce a cathartic breakthrough is hand the Penguins their first series loss in 37 months.

Pittsburgh has never lost an elimination game under head coach Mike Sullivan, capturing a pair of Game 7s — including a 2-0 shutout in Washington in the second round — during its run to a second straight Cup last spring and rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals two years ago.

“They know what it takes to win,” Sullivan said. “They’re not afraid of challenges and they embrace these types of situations.”

To become the first team in 35 years to earn three consecutive titles, the Penguins don’t really have a choice.

They were the better team for long stretches in Game 5 only to have the Capitals surge past them in the third period for a 6-3 win — the second time in three games Pittsburgh lost in regulation when leading after two, something it didn’t do at all in the regular season.

No matter. Recovering quickly and moving forward has kind of been their thing under Sullivan. The Penguins are 17-5 following a playoff loss with Sullivan on the bench.

Pushing that number to 18-5 would send the series back to Washington and force the Capitals try to explain — again — how this time will be different.

“We need to make sure we leave it all out there, give ourselves a chance to get back [to Washington],” Crosby said.

At least the Capitals put themselves in position for playoff heartbreak. That’s hardly the case with the Jets, who until a month ago had won exactly zero postseason games in their 18 years of existence and now find themselves one victory away from the Western Conference finals.

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