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The Capitals and a History of Game 6’s

To get to Game 7, the Caps must stave off elimination at home in Game 6. How have they fared over the years in those Game 6’s?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In a seven-game playoff series, Game 5 is often a pivotal affair, the winner putting the loser on the brink of elimination. Game 7? Of course, always compelling. But Game 6 doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention, even if one of the teams is facing the prospect of scheduling tee times instead of dates for the next series.

For the Washington Capitals, Game 6 has provided its own chapter in the franchise’s long postseason history. Some interesting facts about the Caps and Game 6…

— The Capitals have gone to Game 6 33 times in their history. They are 17-16 in those games.

— It is relatively rare that they play a Game 6 on home ice. Only ten times in those 33 games have they hosted a Game 6 (they will host their 11th on Friday). They are 5-5 in home-ice Game 6’s.

— It’s been even more rare over the last 10-15 years. In fact, only twice in their last 11 times appearing in a Game 6 have they hosted the contest. The first of those two was a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers in 2015 that tied the series at three games apiece. The Caps would go on to lose Game 7, 2-1, in overtime at Madison Square Garden. They beat the Tampa Bay Lightning at home in Game 6 of the 2018 conference final, 3-0, to force a Game 7 in Tampa. They posted a second consecutive shutout, blanking the Bolts, 4-0, to advance to the Stanley Cup final, where they defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to win their first Stanley Cup.

— On the road, the Caps are 12-11 in Game 6’s.

— One-goal games have been common in Game 6 for the Caps. Eighteen times in 33 games, the Caps battled to a one-goal decision. The trouble is, they are just 8-10 in those one-goal decisions.

— The Caps had a chance to clinch a series 17 times in Game 6 over the years and have done so nine times, the most recent instance being the 2-1 overtime win in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the 2018 second round series.

— The Capitals clinched a series at home three times in a Game 6 – in 1990 against the New Jersey Devils in the division semi-final, in 1991 against the New York Rangers in the division semi-finals, and in 1994 against Pittsburgh in the first round.

— Washington clinched a series in Game 6 on the road six times – in 1998 against Boston in the first round, again in 1998 against Buffalo in the conference final, in 2016 against Philadelphia in the first round, in 2017 against Toronto in the first round, against Columbus in 2018 in the first round, and again in 2018 against Pittsburgh in the conference semi-final.

— In the eight instances in which the Caps had a chance to clinch a series with a win in Game 6, but lost, they went on to go 2-6 in the subsequent Game 7. Three of the Game 7 losses came in overtime, twice in multiple overtimes (a double overtime loss to Carolina in 2019 and the epic four-overtime loss to the New York Islanders in 1987).

— Unsurprisingly, the Caps win Game 6’s when they score and hold the other team’s scoring down, and they lose when the opposite happens. The thing to note, though, is the spread. In 17 wins in Game 6’s, the Caps outscored opponents by an average of 4.00 to 1.88. In 16 losses, they were outscored by an average of 3.88 to 2.25.

— The Caps have faced 12 different teams in Game 6’s (Florida will be the 13th on Friday night). They are as follows:

  • Pittsburgh (nine times/4-5)
  • New York Rangers (six times/3-3)
  • Philadelphia (four times/3-1)
  • New York Islanders (three times/0-3)
  • New Jersey (twice/2-0)
  • Boston (twice/1-1))
  • Tampa Bay (twice/1-1)
  • Buffalo (once/1-0)
  • Columbus (once/1-0)
  • Toronto (once/1-0)
  • Carolina (once (0-1)
  • Montreal (once/0-1)

— Eight times the Caps scored five or more goals in a Game 6, but only once at home, that being in 1994 when they beat Pittsburgh, 6-3, to clinch their first round series against the Penguins. In fact, the Caps have scored more than three goals in a Game 6 on home ice only twice (albeit in just ten game 6’s at home). The other instance was in 1991, when they beat the New York Rangers, 4-2, to clinch their first round series against the Rangers.

— The Caps have shut out their opponent twice in those 33 outings. The first was in 2016 against the Philadelphia Flyers on the road, the 1-0 win clinching their first round series against the Flyers. The other was in 2018, when they beat Tampa Bay, 3-0, at home to force a Game 7 in Tampa that the Caps won to advance to the Stanley Cup final.

So here we are, the Caps facing elimination at home in Game 6. It will be the fifth time that the Caps found themselves in win-or-play-golf at home in a Game 6. In four previous occurrences, the Caps are 2-2, besting the Rangers in 2012 (they went on to lose Game 7 in New York) and beating Tampa Bay in 2018 before winning Game 7 in Tampa. They lost to Pittsburgh in 1996 to end their series, and they lost to Tampa Bay in 2003 in three overtimes to end that series. Caps fans are not much given to optimism when it comes to the playoffs, especially when facing elimination.

But their history suggests that this will be a coin-flip game. One hopes the coin will land in the Caps’ favor... and they’ll be headed back to Florida for Game 7.