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Hockey

NHL playoffs: Capitals’ shutout spawns a showdown for Eastern title

Facing elimination at home, the Washington Capitals looked determined to hit everything that moved in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final.

The goal was to finish checks on Tampa Bay Lightning players as much as possible, though at one point Devante Smith-Pelly decked Dan Girardi and took teammate Jay Beagle down with him.

“I apologized to him,” Smith-Pelly said. “I said sorry.

“He didn’t seem to care.”

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The Capitals made no apologies for taking the body and grinding out a physical 3-0 victory Monday night that tied the playoff series and set up a deciding Game 7 on Wednesday at Tampa Bay.

T.J. Oshie had a goal on the power play and into an empty net, Smith-Pelly scored a back-breaker and Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots, but it was the bruising style that kept the Capitals alive and could still pay more dividends.

“You’ve got to wear them down,” Smith-Pelly said. “Every game, if guys are going to be playing 25, 30 minutes, it’s tough when you’re getting hit every single shift. We’ve been on the body all game and all series. If it shows up in Game 7 where guys are starting to get tired, then it was all worth it.”

The winner Wednesday faces the Vegas Golden Knights, who reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first season.

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Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik led the charge in the grueling Game 6, throwing their bodies around all game like human wrecking balls. Orpik separated Cedric Paquette from the puck twice on one shift, Ovechkin leveled rookie Yanni Gourde and Wilson was his usual self, dishing out a handful of crushing body checks.

The Capitals outhit the Lightning 39-19 and outshot the visitors 34-24.

“It’s desperation, really,” Orpik said. “You try to empty the tank as much as you can. That’s probably one area where we have an edge is the size and physical play.”

That edge was noticeable in Game 6 when the Capitals fired up an already-raucous crowd well before Oshie’s power-play goal 15:12 into the second period. While Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was again on top of his game in stopping 31 of 33 shots, Orpik said the Capitals wanted to give back to fans for their energy and did so by laying out Lightning players.


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