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Lightning can finish off Capitals

(AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Washington Capitals know they have a lot of work to do.

The Tampa Bay Lightning know their work is far from done.

Both teams expect to be at their best on Monday for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at Capital One Arena with Tampa Bay holding a 3-2 series advantage and the chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Capitals, a franchise haunted by the failures of postseasons past, are staring down another one heading in to their first elimination of this playoffs.

After finally pushing past the Pittsburgh Penguins and advancing past the second round for the first time in 20 years -- and the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era -- Washington kept rolling right on in to the conference finals, winning the first two games on the road.

But since grabbing that 2-0 series lead, the Capitals have dropped the past three games and are once again facing questions about seeing a big series lead dissipate into disappointment.

In the conference era, which dates back to 1974-75, only two teams in 41 occasions have won the first two games of a conference final or league semifinal and failed to win the series: the Montreal Canadiens in 1984 and Boston Bruins in 1991.

"It's OK," Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said. "We're going to play better in Game 6 and we have (to) bounce back and come here and play a Game 7 and that's it."

The Capitals are leaning on some of the adversity they have faced this season, including being down 0-2 themselves in the opening round after dropping consecutive home games to open the series against Columbus.

"We kind of had our backs against the wall a couple times this year in this playoffs. We can draw from those experiences," defenseman John Carlson said. "Just got to go out there and play hockey. That's what we do. Just all about upstairs and what you can control. I think if you stay in the moment like we have, we got a pretty good chance of winning.

"I think these guys are a very capable group that is very capable of winning the next game. That's all we're worried about."

History is not on Washington's side, however.

When a series is tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven format, the team which won Game 5 has an all-time series record of 215-55, a 79.6 winning percentage.

But the Lightning are well aware that a 3-2 series lead means the next victory is going to be the hardest to earn.

Twice in the previous three years Tampa Bay has been in this same position in the conference finals. In 2015, they held a 3-2 lead against the New York Rangers heading back home but lost Game 6 before winning in seven games. In 2016, the Lightning were up 3-2 on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference finals and lost Game 6 at home and eventually the series in seven games.

Now, they are back in the same situation in 2018, but instead are heading on the road with the chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in franchise history.

"We have a lot of unfinished business," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said. "This isn't even close to being over. This last game's definitely the hardest, against a very, very good Washington team and to go in their building and try to close them out it's going to be tough."

Tampa Bay has been a strong road team in these playoffs, posting a 5-1 record away from home with four consecutive road victories. The Lightning have also never lost a playoff game in Washington in three all-time postseason meetings, which also includes 2003 and 2011, with a 7-0 record.

Yet, all that matters is what Tampa Bay can put forth on Monday.

"We're going to have to match their urgency," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "The closeout games, potential closeout games, they just seem to bring out the best in everybody. For us, we've had some success when we've gotten the lead. When you do that, you put a little pressure on the other team. Something we'll try and focus on (Monday) night."

Updated May 21, 2018

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