Best quote: Speaking of the present … this was John Stevenson, Braden Holtby’s sports psychologist, on before the Capitals lost Game 4 to fall behind three games to one. “I have no future, I have no past, my goal is to make the present last, I’m right here, right now.” Wednesday will be here before you know it, even if it doesn’t seem that way now. Enjoy this one.
Best do-over: One year after the Penguins ended the Capitals’ season in Pittsburgh with an overtime win in Game 6 of their second-round series, Washington ensured that there will be a Game 7 on Wednesday in Washington, and they didn’t need overtime to do it. The Capitals stormed to a 5-0 lead before allowing two late goals in a thoroughly dominating win.
Worst truth: D.C. sports will be lit on Wednesday, with the Wizards in Boston for Game 5 and the Nationals hosting the Orioles at Nationals Park. The most important game — and the stress that comes with it — will be at 7th and F St.
Worst late-game letdown: The outcome of Monday’s game was no longer in doubt, but Jake Guentzel ended Braden Holtby’s bid for a shutout with 3:22 remaining and Evgeni Malkin scored less than a minute later to cut the Capitals’ lead to 5-2. The chants of “Holt-by! Holt-by!” resumed.
Best rout: A little more than a minute after John Carlson scored on the power play, Andre Burakovsky’s second goal of the game at 12:29 of the third period extended Washington’s lead to 5-0. At that point, the Capitals had scored the last eight goals in the series and were playing like a team that wouldn’t allow another goal en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
Best sight: If you were wondering what color the seats were at PPG Paints Arena, wonder no more. The crowd thinned out considerably after the Capitals’ fifth goal, and yes, this would probably happen at Verizon Center too.
Worst wait: With 11 minutes remaining in the third period, Kevin Shattenkirk stood behind the Capitals’ goal with the puck and waited … and waited … and waited before making an outlet pass. Given that Washington already led 3-0 and was completely dominating the game, was it too much to ask the Penguins to just let Shattenkirk chill there until the horn sounded?
Best insurance: Shattenkirk’s pass led to a Daniel Winnik breakaway, and while Winnik missed the net, a Capitals power play followed. John Carlson capitalized on it to give Washington a 4-0 lead.
Best lead: Sixteen seconds into the third period Nicklas Backstrom fired a wrist shot over Marc-Andre Fleury’s catching glove for a 3-0 Capitals lead.
Best goalie: Braden Holtby was tested half as often as Fleury in the first 40 minutes, but the defending Vezina Trophy winner extended his shutout streak to three periods by stopping the first eight Pittsburgh shots he faced. He finished the game with 16 saves on 18 shots.
Worst disappearing act: The Penguins’ top line of Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist combined for three shots on goal. Pittsburgh was on pace for its fewest shots on goal in a playoff game in franchise history. but surpassed the 13 shots they had in a 4-2 win over the Devils back in 1999 with 10 shots in the third period.
Best battle: Jay Beagle was among the Capitals who made life miserable for Crosby, who had one shot on goal. “Beagle gets away with a little bit of a hack, he holds his stick, but it doesn’t matter,” NBC Sports Network’s Mike Milbury said of Beagle harassing Crosby in front of the net in the second period. “If you can get away with it, get away with it.”
Worst sight: Crosby, who suffered a concussion during the first period of Game 3 and missed Game 4 as a result, was knocked headfirst into the boards late in the first period on Monday, but remained in the game.
Best sound: There were some boos among the crowd in Pittsburgh after the Penguins failed to register a shot on their second power play 11 minutes into the second period. The boos returned after another unsuccessful power play in the third period.
Best and worst lineup tweaks: For the second consecutive game, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz’s decision to bump Andre Burakovsky up to the first line and Alex Ovechkin down to the third line paid off. Meanwhile, Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan’s decision to reunite the “HBK” line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, who combined for four goals in last year’s series-clinching win over Washington, didn’t work out as well. Midway through the second period, the Capitals were outshooting the Penguins 15-5.
Best Burakovsky: Burakovsky came alive with a goal and an assist in Game 5 after being held scoreless in the first four games of the series. The 22-year-old scored again 6:36 into the second period Monday to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead.
Best praise: “This should be an amazing boost to the Washington Capitals’ psyche,” NBC Sports Network’s Mike Milbury said during the first intermission. “They played that period to a T, they took control of the game, they gotta continue to play in the same fashion.” That might be the highest praise Milbury has ever given the Capitals.
Worst injury to insult: During the Penguins’ first power play, Hornqvist whiffed on a one-timer in front of Holtby and then took an inadvertent skate to the face from Matt Niskanen.
Best defense: The Penguins had only one shot on goal more than 17 minutes into the first period when an Evgeny Kuznetsov slashing penalty gave them their first power play. Pittsburgh doubled its shot total during the man-advantage, but couldn’t solve Holtby. Washington owned an 11-3 advantage in shots on goal after 20 minutes, but only a 1-0 lead.
Best tic-tac-goal: Washington had its second man-advantage of the game after Crosby was sent off for hooking Tom Wilson, which is something that really happened, with 8:04 to play in the first period. Less than a minute later, T.J. Oshie tallied his first goal of the series to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom set up the goal with a couple of perfect passes.
Best cross-sport promotion: Two days after former Redskins Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterback Mark Rypien helped fire up the Verizon Center crowd, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin received a loud cheer when he was shown on the video board at PPG Paints Arena.
Best save: The Capitals managed only one shot on their first power play after Jake Guentzel was whistled for roughing 4:07 into the first period, but it was a good one. Operating from his office in the left faceoff circle, Ovechkin fired a laser toward Fleury, who knocked the puck down with his catching glove and pounced on the rebound. Seven-and-a-half minutes into the game, the only two shots on goal belonged to Washington.
Best sign: David Duber, the Capitals fan who wore a “Fire Dan Snyder” shirt to Saturday’s win and went viral after NBC Sports Network showed him celebrating Nicklas Backstrom’s game-tying goal, was back at Verizon Center — and wearing the same lucky shirt — for the Wizards’ win over the Celtics on Sunday. Duber made the trip to Pittsburgh and caught a puck during warmups. Yes, of course he wore the shirt.
Worst absence: The Penguins were without defenseman Trevor Daley, who suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of Game 5 after taking a crushing hit from Capitals forward Tom Wilson. Daley only has one point in the playoffs, but he’s averaging more than 18 minutes of ice time per game.
Best momentum: The third period of Game 5 was the Capitals’ best of the series, as Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin scored goals and Holtby turned away all 12 Penguins shots to help Washington erase a 2-1 deficit and stave off elimination. The Capitals kept it going in Game 6.
Worst memory: Bonino’s overtime goal here last year ended the Capitals’ season in Game 6 of the second round. Washington fell behind 3-0 before rallying to force overtime. “You don’t get many chances for do-overs, and we got one, so we’ve got to take advantage of it,” T.J. Oshie said earlier Monday.
Game 6: Washington Capitals (1st place, 55-19-8, 118 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (2nd place, 50-21-11, 111 points)
Date and time: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
Location: PPG Paints Arena
Regular season series: Capitals 2, Penguins 2
Game 1 at Washington: Penguins 3, Capitals 2
Game 2 at Washington: Penguins 6, Capitals 2
Game 3 at Pittsburgh: Capitals 3, Penguins 2 (OT)
Game 4 at Pittsburgh: Penguins 3, Capitals 2
Game 5 at Washington: Capitals 4, Penguins 2
Game 7 at Washington (if necessary): Wednesday, TBD (NBCSN)
>> A year ago, Evgeny Kuznetsov struggled under the spotlight, finishing with just one goal and one assist in 12 playoff games, one of the biggest disappointments in another early exit for Washington. In this year’s playoffs, Kuznetsov has five goals and three assists in 11 games, including four in Washington’s second-round series with the Penguins. He again has proved he is the Capitals’ future.
>> Andre Burakovsky hadn’t been much of a factor in these playoffs, with just two assists in 10 games entering Game 5. All it took for him to break through, however, was a bit of line tinkering by Coach Barry Trotz. Burakovsky made the most of the opportunity Saturday, scoring a first-period goal to keep the Capitals alive early and adding an assist on the game-tying goal in the third period. It was an encouraging sign for Burakovsky and the Capitals’ forwards corps, which was in a bit of a goal slump entering Game 5.
>> The Capitals entered the third period of Game 5 down a goal. And if you say you had hope for a win, Post columnist Barry Svrluga says he doesn’t believe you. Neither do we. The Caps now head to Pittsburgh for a must-win game Monday night. See you back here Wednesday night? Right now, if you tell us you have hope for that, we’ll believe you.
>> Words of advice for Caps fans from Braden Holtby’s “sports psych guy in Edmonton” John Stevenson, who has worked with Holtby since the defending Vezina Trophy winner was 14 years old: “When they’re back in Washington, just be the biggest, loudest, noisiest building cheering. You control the controllable. You’re bringing your focus to the here and now.”
>> True, Washington is outshooting the Penguins in the series and did so in lopsided fashion in the Game 4 loss. But perhaps the most surprising aspect about this year’s playoff debacle is the different ways the Capitals are beating themselves — like Dmitry Orlov kicking the puck into his own net.
>> Here’s something Dan Steinberg never ever wants to hear again for the rest of his life: The Capitals played great, dominated possession and registered 437 more shot attempts than their playoff opponent, but they lost because hockey is weird and random LOL.
>> It’s a terrible state of existence when every odd bounce that works against you has to be woven into the tapestry as part of some generations-long drama — and a depressing one at that. But it is the very existence of the Capitals, and who knows when — or if — that will change. Welcome, then, Dmitry Orlov and his right skate to this disaster. They’re part of the story now, like it or not, writes Barry Svrluga.
>> Alex Ovechkin blamed himself after Game 4. “I think I didn’t control the puck well,” Ovechkin said. “You know, I make stupid decisions. Unfortunately, it happened, and we have to forget it and we have to move forward. Every game right now for us is [a Game 7], so we have to win three to move forward. I’m pretty sure we’re ready for that.”
>> The Capitals and Sidney Crosby’s scary history of head injuries were linked long before the Penguins’ captain lay on the ice late in the first period on Monday after taking a cross-check to the face from Matt Niskanen. Pittsburgh Coach Mike Sullivan confirmed everyone’s worst fears and added a new chapter to that history when he announced Tuesday that Crosby suffered a concussion on the play and will miss at least Game 4 of the second-round playoff series.
>> You would have to live somewhere between optimism and insanity to predict the Caps will win this series. NHL teams that drop the first two games of a seven-game set at home go on to lose about 80 percent of the time. The Caps have lost six straight games in Pittsburgh. Still, Washington’s only chance, it seems to Dan Steinberg, is to ease back into the team it’s been for the past two years.
>>“So here we are again, in late April, absolutely panicking,” writes Barry Svrluga. And it’s tough to argue with him. For the Capitals, it’s starting to look like the same old story.
>> Marc-Andre Fleury helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup in 2009 and has been a franchise cornerstone for more than a decade, but was replaced by rookie Matt Murray because of injuries last postseason. He nearly rode the bench for another playoff run, but when Murray was injured in warm-ups of Game 1 during the Penguins’ first-round series, Fleury stepped into a net that is, at least for the moment, his again. Fleury’s steady play is making the Penguins’ Cup pursuit much simpler.
>> D.C. sporting events aren’t known for their celebrity power, but last week seemed different. Twenty-four hours after Joe Biden brought down the house during a Wizards-Hawks playoff game, the Caps hosted a veteran A-lister of their own: David Letterman and his truly spectacular beard. Dan Steinberg talked with the TV legend about why he was at the game and whom he was rooting for.
>> There are few people more intimately involved with the Caps than David Abrutyn, who pops up Zelig-like throughout the history of this franchise. He has represented Washington’s best player, Alex Ovechkin, since late 2009, a few months after Ovechkin’s Caps met Sidney Crosby’s Penguins in the postseason for the first time. But that hardly begins to tell the story of his connections to the Capitals.
>> Karl Alzner, whose contract expires after this season, knows nothing will be resolved until Washington’s playoff run ends, but it’s been hard to avoid thoughts about the future. Understanding the salary cap constraints coming this summer when several young players will need new contracts, he has occasionally scanned the Capitals’ roster, trying to determine which players the team will want to keep at the cost of a raise and which will have to move on.
>> This year should be different for the Capitals, Fancy Stats’ Neil Greenberg writes. Pittsburgh overwhelmed Washington with its depth last season, but Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan addressed that issue during the offseason. The team signed Boston Bruins winger Brett Connolly, traded for center Lars Eller and moved Jay Beagle down the lineup to a role on the fourth line that better suited his defensive style of play. And the Capitals bring other advantages, as well.
>> Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will get the lion’s share of the attention, but the eventual winner of this series will be the team that gets the most production from players other than its stars, writes Fancy Stats’ Neil Greenberg.
>> Let’s acknowledge the obvious: There shouldn’t be a Penguins series. Not yet, anyhow.
>> Playoff hockey is a rush and a thrill and a jolt of adrenaline and a three-hour sugar high. But it’s also often stupid, writes Dan Steinberg. The games are tight. The margins are tiny. Luck lurks everywhere. Happenstance tugs at every collar. And too often, the team that gets the better of the play still loses the game.
>> The Post’s Dan Steinberg argues that the Capitals actually deserve to win the Stanley Cup this year: “There’s not much more you can say about the most complete Capitals team we’ve ever seen. They had the most points in the NHL this season, the best goal differential, the fewest goals allowed, the most wins at home. They had the best goal differential in the first period, and the best goal differential in the third period. They had 59 points in their first 41 games, and 59 points in their last 41 games. They were the best hockey team out there, and it wasn’t that close.”