The Capitals are still alive.
They have extended this series to a sixth game thanks to a 4-2 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
On home ice for Game 5, the Capitals were 20 minutes away from another sudden, disappointing departure from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the second round against the rival Penguins — and all of the critical questions, second guessing, difficult decisions and possibly some very significant changes that can follow such a result.
The Penguins, with Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary back in the lineup after missing the last game due to concussions, held the lead going into the third period. They had stifled the Capitals in the second period. It was hardly exciting, but it did, up until then at least, have the desired impact.
As a result, they were on the verge of eliminating the Capitals and doing so in front of the Washington fans, which certainly would’ve added further insult to an organization that has been unable to escape the discussion about its past playoff failures.
Then, from almost out of nowhere, the Capitals offense erupted. Those star players that coach Barry Trotz was demanding more from emphatically answered the call.
The depth of their offensive attack had been lacking in terms of production, but that changed for at least one night with a two-point effort from Andre Burakovsky, who halted his playoff scoring drought at 10 games and his playoff point drought at six games.
Nicklas Backstrom started the onslaught. He beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a shot under his left arm. That tied the game 2:49 into the third period. The Capitals were just getting started. Evgeny Kuznetsov followed that up less than five minutes later with the go-ahead goal and Alex Ovechkin increased Washington’s lead just 27 seconds later.
That’s Ovechkin’s second goal of this series. He had a difficult performance in Game 4 and admitted as much afterwards. He responded with an inspired third period that also included a shot off the post.
The Capitals finally found an answer to Fleury. They had outplayed the Penguins in the second half of Game 4 but couldn’t find that tying goal in large part because of the play of Pittsburgh’s goalie, who had a .937 save percentage entering Saturday’s contest.
Fleury had outplayed Braden Holtby at the other end in this series. But not in Game 5. Holtby, who had an underwhelming .867 save percentage through four games against the Penguins, was much better when his team absolutely needed it.
Game 6 goes Monday in Pittsburgh. The Penguins still lead the series. The Capitals still have plenty of work remaining if they are to pull off what would be a tremendous comeback.
But for the Capitals, this was a pretty good start.