Capitals need to tap into 'killer instinct' to avoid dangerous Game 7

Chris Russell
April 21, 2019 - 9:03 pm
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A dominant performance is only as good as your next effort.

For the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals, they will have an opportunity to test that premise Monday night in Raleigh after a 6-0 win in Game 5

The Caps will have a huge chance to close out a team on the road and avoid a perilous Game 7 on Wednesday in Washington. 

Last year:

-The Caps won three straight against Columbus and then choked the Blue Jackets out in Game 6 in Ohio. 

-After winning Game 5 in Washington against the Pens, the Caps vanquished their demons in Pittsburgh, winning in overtime of Game 6  and advancing to the conference finals for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era.

-And after blowing a 2-0 lead in those eastern conference finals, the Caps saved their season at home in Game 6 before throttling Tampa -- in Tampa -- in Game 7.

All that set the stage for the Caps to win the Cup in Las Vegas in five games. 

Why the trip down memory lane? Winning on the road became routine during last year's run (they were 10-3 in four rounds) and the champs need to tap into that nostalgia... fast. 

"Obviously, you have to have that killer instinct and the ability to put teams away," Todd Reirden said Sunday. "One of the positives to going through what we did last year was the fact that by eliminating teams earlier, it gave us a little bit of extra energy at the end of it. And when we had the chance to. So that's something that we learned from there." 

"If we play to our identity, then it really seems to match up nicely for those elimination games," he said. 

Game 6 will not be as thunderous and frenetic as Saturday night at home. It can't be. But they can impose their will. 

"For us, it has been the way we've improved within a series," Reirden said. "Obviously, last night [Saturday] being our best game. I thought Game 4 being better for us after Game 3 being not very good. So we're headed in the right direction and if we continue to take that next step with our game, then we give ourselves a chance to have success." 

One of the reasons why the Caps were so dominant on Saturday and why they've improved as series' have gone along? Physicality. 

Saturday night, they had 48 credited hits as a team. Carolina had 32. 

"You don't know the breaking point for any opposition, but this was a big part of our success last year, that we needed to invest and force the opposition to play a difficult game and eventually if you do it for long enough and you believe in the rest of your systems enough, you will break them and will allow you to get the results you need," Reirden said. 

The Caps know the Canes will be desperate and will try to take the physicality to them to get their crowd even more fired up. 

Washington has to win the puck battles that they controlled in Game 5. They have to fore-check like they did on Saturday, which they haven't done all series to that point. Their special teams need to be special, as they were at Capital One Arena before a raucous home crowd. 

The Caps were (3-4) on the power play and killed off all five short-handed opportunities. 

They also need to continue to play for T.J. Oshie and use that emotional lift in a positive direction. Oshie had a surgical procedure on Friday and is expected to miss the rest of the playoffs. 

That means everyone has to lift their game to a different level. from Ovechkin to Devante Smith Pelly, to the defensive pairs and goaltender, Braden Holtby -- who was not great in the first four games of the series. Holtby posted a 30-save shutout, his first in the playoffs since Game 6 against the Lightning last year.

The Caps don't need perfection but they are craving sustained quality for 60 minutes. 

"That's what we're going to need going into Raleigh for tomorrow."

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