Capitals must reset after lost opportunities against Panthers in playoffs

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals traveled home Thursday morning still absorbing how they’ve reached the brink of elimination against the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference First Round, but with a singular purpose.

Trailing 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, Washington needs a win in Game 6 at Capital One Arena on Friday (7:30 pm ET; TBS, SN360, TVAS, NBCSWA, BSFL) to stay alive and force Game 7 in Florida on Sunday. The alternative is losing in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

“Well, we’ve got to win a hockey game,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday. “There’s things we’ve done well in this series and there’s things we haven’t done well. Last night was no different. We’ve got to take those things that we did well, and the positives, and bring that for a more consistent amount of time. ”

If Capitals can’t find a way to do that Friday, they will spend the offseason lamenting the opportunities they missed to win their first playoff series since the 2018 Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights. With a chance to take a 3-1 series lead in Game 4 on Monday, Washington led by one before allowing the tying goal with 2:04 remaining in the third period and losing 3-2 in overtime.

The Capitals took an even bigger gut punch in a 5-3 defeat in Game 5 on Wednesday. They led 3-0 after TJ Oshie scored his second goal of the game 3:38 into the second period before the Panthers stormed back with five unanswered goals.

Video: WSH @ FLA: Panthers comeback from 3-0 with 5 unanswered

So instead of heading home for Game 6 leading the series or having closed it out already, the Capitals need to win two straight games against the Panthers, who won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL regular-season leader with a team-record 122 points .

“Obviously, you do not want to be down 3-2, especially when we felt like we had a chance to go up 3-1 in the last game,” Oshie said. “You just got to regroup. We’ve got a veteran group in there, a bunch of guys with a lot of great character.”

Whether the Capitals will have forward Tom Wilson for Game 6 is uncertain. Wilson hasn’t played since the first period of Game 1 because of a lower-body injury. Laviolette said Thursday he remains day to day.

Even without Wilson, the Capitals have much of their core intact from their 2018 Stanley Cup team who have been in this position before. Washington trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Final that season after losing three straight games and rebounded to win 3-0 in Game 6 at home and 4-0 in Game 7 on the road to advance to the Stanley Cup Final .

[RELATED: Complete Panthers vs. Capitals series coverage]

“A lot of these guys have been here, but we’re just waking up from it this morning,” Laviolette said. “Everybody’s still feeling last night. I’d mentioned it, the day in-between (games) is the day to kind of get it out of your system, move on and recover. There should be a lot of confidence from the things that we have done well in the series, the games that we have won, the times that we played well.But you really have to work for a clean game against a team like Florida, who’s dynamic with what they do.

“Again, those will be the points of emphasis moving forward. We’ll get on the ice tomorrow and get ready for a big game.”

Among the Capitals ‘reasons for optimism is they’ve controlled play for stretches in the series with their forecheck and neutral-zone structure, which at times has slowed the Panthers’ high-powered offense. Washington also holds a 6-0 advantage in power-play goals through the first five games.

But the past two games have been a reminder of what can happen when the Capitals do not maintain their focus for the full 60 minutes. The Panthers have a knack for comebacks, leading the NHL with 29 come-from-behind wins during the regular season, nine from down multiple goals.

“We’ve got to shake this one off,” Oshie said. “I think we’re still showing ourselves how we have to play and creating chances, creating offense, keeping their offense in check. We keep getting away from it. We’ve got to reset here.”

The Panthers are in a position to win its first playoff series since advancing to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final before being swept by the Colorado Avalanche, their third season after joining the NHL as an expansion team in 1993. They lead a playoff series for the first time since 3-2 against the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Florida let that opportunity to advance slip away by losing Games 6 and 7 in overtime.

A decade later, no Panthers players remain from that team, but that series provides a reminder that they have work left to do in this one.

“We know we’re up right now, but we can’t really think too much ahead or anything,” Panthers captain Alexander Barkov said. “Just think about the next shift, next game, next period what you’re going to do and do your best like we’ve been doing. That’s it. Just get ready for the next game and don’t think too much ahead. “


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