National Hockey League playoffs: Vrana, Capitals push Penguins to brink of elimination

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Following Vrana's goal, the Penguins registered just one shot on net.

We have Game 5 on tap tonight with the series tied, and would we have it any other way than a tied series with these two teams?

But the Capitals are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins at two games apiece in the teams' second-round series, and a poor performance from the top line might have been the difference in Washington's 3-1 Game 4 loss.

The Washington Capitals don't need a history lesson. But while Wilson seemed to make Ovechkin better - the Capitals took 52 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts during the regular season when those two were on the ice together rather than 49 percent when Ovechkin didn't have Wilson beside him - Washington was out-attempted in the 262-plus minutes that Ovechkin and Smith-Pelly played together, according to Natural Stat Trick. They are one step away from moving on to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1997/98. They can move on to face the victor of the Tampa Bay-Boston series if they win Game 6 Monday in Pittsburgh.

To beat the Penguins, the Capitals have had to play like them.

Those experiences have made the Penguins confident in these situations, so it wasn't surprising when Pittsburgh chose not to practice Sunday, the day before an elimination game.

Trotz did say he was "possibly" considering changes to the lines, but did not say if he would make any such changes prior to Game 5. "That's where our focus needs to be". We put it behind us.

The Capitals can't do that.

But it's hard to envision exactly how he can elevate his game any higher than he already has in these playoffs, and this series in particular. And it's not just against the Penguins.

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This second-round series with the Penguins has been different. The two teams have combined for more than five goals only once so far in this series.

This will be the third time that Ovechkin will have a chance to end Crosby's season - after facing off in Game 7s in 2009 and 2017 - but this is the first time that the Russian will have two chances to get it done.

The Capitals have plenty of gamebreakers led by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeni Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie. The Capitals have been getting scoring throughout their lines in the series.

Where the Penguins have the edge is in depth and desperation.

As for the desperation?

- The Penguins have scored three or more goals in three of the four games this series, a trend which they are continuing from the first-round. As they almost always do when the Penguins are on the other side of the ice.

"I didn't give it that much thought", Sullivan said.

"All I'm going to say is there is absolutely no place in our game for that", Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. We've played some good hockey here, so I think we've just got to go out there and focus on winning one game and make sure when we go out there we give ourselves a chance to get back in it.

"I mean, the regular season is long, so there's going to be stretches where you don't feel good and stretches of slumps and stuff like that", Smith-Pelly said before Game 4. "That's got to be our mindset if we want to have success and take a mature approach to it". They needed to erase a 3-1 deficit just to force a Game 7 previous year.

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