Wed, May 10, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Capitals overpower Penguins 5-2 to force Game 7

AP, PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania

The Washington Capitals are well aware of their franchise’s inglorious past, one filled with unmet expectations and gut-wrenching collapses.

And they do not care. It is not 1992. It is not 1996, 2009 or last year for that matter.

The Capitals have spent the better part of the season insisting this time, things will be different, that they are not burdened by the weight of the team’s history of playoff flameouts, one most of the guys in red, white and blue had nothing to do with.

Backed up to the precipice against rivals that have tormented them for decades, the Capitals finally punched back. Hard.

Andre Burakovsky on Monday night scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom got his sixth of the playoffs as Washington beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 to force a Game 7 in their seesawing NHL Eastern Conference semi-final series.

This is the fourth time the two teams are to meet in a winner-take-all game. The Penguins have won each of the previous three. Not that it bothers the Capitals.

“I haven’t been here forever but, one, I’ve never been in a Game 7,” said Washington forward T.J. Oshie, who opened the scoring with a first-period power-play goal. “Two, I’ve never been past the second round. I know how much it would mean to me and I imagine it would be the same to every guy in this locker room.”

The Capitals are as close as they have been to their first appearance in the conference finals in 19 years after rallying from a 3-1 series deficit by sprinting by Pittsburgh in the third period at home in Game 5 and then delivering a masterful performance 48 hours later in a city that has often been a burial ground for once-promising seasons.

One year ago, Washington trailed Pittsburgh 3-1 in the second round, won Game 5 at home only to fall in overtime of Game 6. Intent on not repeating history yet again, the Capitals jumped on the defending Stanley Cup champions early and did not relent until the things were well in hand and a once raucous arena was largely empty.

“Since Game 3 we’ve had a sense of calmness about what we’re doing,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re having fun now. The fun part has been the obstacle.”

Jake Guentzel picked up his playoff-leading ninth goal and Evgeni Malkin added another 52 seconds later late in the third period to make the score look slightly better, but the Penguins were never in it.

The Capitals controlled play throughout. Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 21 saves and received little help in front him.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan tinkered with his line combinations, reuniting the “HBK” line — Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel — that played an instrumental part in the team’s Cup run last spring.

Sullivan also moved rookie Guentzel alongside Malkin and put Conor Sheary with Crosby.

None of it worked, as Washington pushed the Penguins around.

Holding two-goal leads in the post-season has been a tenuous proposition at best, with 13 times teams letting them slip away so far in the playoffs.

Yet, instead of simply trying to protect their advantage, Washington kept pressing.

Backstrom flipped a wrist shot by Fleury 16 seconds into the third to make it 3-0, and when John Carlson fired one past Fleury 11 minutes, 17 seconds into the third, the arena began emptying out.

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