May 9, 2017
Sports Insider Weekly
Every time you think they’re out, they pull you back in. The Washington Capitals have a rough history with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They’re the team they can’t quite beat, the team that eliminated them from the playoffs twice, both times going on to win it all. This year’s second round series started off with more of the same, with the Caps falling into an early 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
But on the brink of elimination–twice–the Capitals responded with resilience. Since scoring three goals in the final period of Game 5 to stave off elimination and keep their playoff hopes alive, Washington has looked like a different team. On Monday night they not only played well–they dominated.
After scoring a goal apiece in the first two periods, Washington scored three late to take a commanding 5-0 lead with 7 1/2 minutes left to play. Fans had already begun to file out of PPG Paints Arena when Jake Guentzel scored for Pittsburgh with under four minutes left. Evgeni Malkin added another goal less than a minute later, but their comeback had come too late.
The Caps won 5-2 to force a decisive Game 7 Wednesday night at Verizon Center. There, in front of their fans, they will have a chance to not only complete their series comeback, but break the 19-year conference championship round drought for D.C. sports. That would be fitting, as the 1998 Caps were the last team to advance past the divisional round.
As Capitals coach Barry Trotz said on Sunday, when asked how they could win another elimination game – “All it’s going to take is all we have.”
Just like the Capitals, the Wizards have a chance at redemption. After dropping the first two games against the Celtics in Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs, the Wizards won back-to-back games at home to even the series. With things all tied up, the teams are guaranteed to play at least two more games. The best case scenario for Washington would be a road win on Wednesday, followed by a series victory at home Friday.
If they drop Wednesday’s game, their best hope would be to win at home Friday and try to close out the series in Boston next Monday. Though Wizards lost the first two games by more than 10 points, they also won the last two by at least that much – including a 116-89 Game 3 rout.
“We’re the better team and we feel like we’ve been the better team,” said Wizards forward Markieff Morris.
They will need to win away from home to confirm that–and advance. They will also need to prove themselves on the road if they want any shot at beating the No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron James and the Cavs have swept both playoff opponents thus far, and will face the winner of the Wizards-Celtics series. After their Game 4 victory, John Wall is confident they can get the job done.
“I feel like we feel like we’re in control,” Wall said. “We had the momentum coming home to win our two games. We feel like we can win in Boston. We know we can. We’ve just got to do a better job of taking care of those leads we get and just playing smart basketball down the stretch.”