The Washington Capitals came into Game 6 Monday with their backs against the wall. However, the team left Capital One Arena with the series against Tampa Bay squared up again, headed for a sudden death Game 7 that could very well go either way.
Inside Capital One Arena, the atmosphere was nervous and uncertain; fans sat timidly and started off rather quiet. However, Nicklas Backstrom didn’t think he and his teammates were tested by nerves.
“All the guys were comfortable out there and played with good energy,” Backstrom said. “Overall, it was a good team effort.”
With key saves and a shutout from Braden Holtby and two goals from T.J. Oshie and a game-winner from Devante-Smith Pelly, the arena had a new life, the fans rejuvenated. The Capitals triumphed and stormed back against the Lightning.
“If you saw my face, I was yelling. It was pretty exciting,” Smith-Pelly said. “Any time you score in the playoffs, it’s huge.”
Capitals’ Physicality Shines
A key to the Capitals’ Game 6 victory, as well as their play throughout the series, has been their gritty playing style. Big checks took center stage Monday, and though players like Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson didn’t get on the scoresheet, their physicality helped shut down Tampa and led Washington to dominate key players and match up well against top lines on the ice.
“I think it makes a big difference,” T.J. Oshie said. “I think in these games, I feel like everyone’s bringing energy and you kind of want to control that and direct it toward some positivity and some momentum building for your team.”
Smith-Pelly also added that Ovechkin was a force to be reckoned with, and his play and energy was contagious.
“He was huge,” Smith-Pelly said. “He was flying around, he was finishing checks, he was skating hard. And when we see that, and the crowd gets excited, we all feed off of it.”
Holtby, Capitals Prepare for Game 7
Heading into perhaps the biggest game of the season for Washington, they have gotten nothing but a great performance from Braden Holtby. From a critical glove save to a shutout in Game 6, the 28-year-old netminder has impressed with a bounce-back effort in the postseason, garnering “Holtby” chants from the crowd and highest praise from his teammates.
However, given the circumstances, he tries to stay focused on the game and tries to “stay the same level” throughout.
“I’m just trying to play in the moment, focus on the puck, make a save and move on,” Holtby said.
Now, the focus shifts to Game 7, where the Capitals and Lightning are both one win away from the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights. However, the team will do what they can to not focus on the circumstances.
“We’ve down a really good job this playoffs especially, of just staying in the moment one game at a time,” Holtby said. “Game 7 is going to be no different than 1-6 of this series or any other. We focus on what we can have success with, we hold everyone accountable on our team to bring their best game. And once the puck drops you go moment to moment and when the buzzer sounds, your goal is to do more of the little thingsa nd have a bigger effect on the game to push the outcome in your favor.”
Oshie agreed, saying that the team saw “direct urgency [that] was throughout the entire lineup” in Game 6, but now, it’s all about moving onto the next game and shifting the focus there.”
“I think it’s great that we’re close,” Oshie said. “I think we have an idea of what it takes to get there, but I think the hunger right now is just to get the game started. We’re excited to drop the puck in a couple days here and go to war.”
Ultimately, the Capitals will invest full focus into Game 7 but believe they should be able to play with the same persistence and effort they had Monday.
“One game away from the Stanley Cup [Final],” Brooks Oprik said. “Hopefully motivation isn’t a problem.”
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.