Could the curse finally be coming to an end?
The Washington Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 on Saturday night to take a 3-2 series lead, putting the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs on the brink of playoff elimination and putting the Capitals on the brink of ending a curse that has plagued them for over two decades.
The Penguins are 9-1 all-time against the Capitals in the playoffs, including winning the past seven encounters dating back to 1995. Most recently, the Capitals have been shown the door in consecutive seasons in the second round by the Penguins, this despite the Capitals owning a superior regular season record.
This time, the Capitals might actually prove their worth.
The Capitals were resilient in Game 5. After Jamie Oleksiak gave the Penguins an early lead in the first period, the Capitals rallied late in the frame, scoring twice in 33 seconds.
The Caps found themselves in penalty trouble in the second period and got behind 3-2 after Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist converted on two of those man-advantages, but would rattle off four straight in the third period (including two empty-net goals) to take the series lead back to Pittsburgh for Game 6 on Monday.
Jakub Vrana, who got a bump to Washington’s top line, didn’t disappoint, scoring the game-winner on a nice rush from Alex Ovechkin. Vrana also provided the assist that saw Evgeny Kuznetsov fire home the game-tying goal earlier in the period and added another helper in the first.
And don’t sleep on Holtby’s save just before the game-winning rush. Holtby stopped 36-of-39 to help the Capitals past their arch-playoff-nemesis in this one. Matt Murray allowed 26-on-30 for a less notable outing.
Despite the Capitals being up a game, the pressure is squarely on them to finish this series and put themselves in the Eastern Conference Final.
Team’s that take a 3-2 series lead have a near-80 percent chance of moving on. But the numbers that have swirled around in favor of the Capitals have never meant much in this matchup.
Pittsburgh has all the experience in the world to still win this in seven, so Washington has to manage their minds more than anything starting on Monday evening.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck