History tells us that the Penguins' second-round playoff series is all but officially over, that Game 6 at Mellon Arena at 7:08 tonight should be little more than a 60-minute formality.
After all, the Penguins own a 3-2 lead in the series, will be playing at home and have a rivalry with the Capitals that traditionally is a lot like the one a stick has with a pinata.
Hard to imagine how anyone could see Washington as a viable threat to extend the series beyond this evening, huh?
Unless it's someone who has been paying attention the past five games, that is.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma obviously has, so he appreciates the challenge the Capitals will present in Game 6. And why the Penguins dare not take the victory that would catapult them into the Eastern Conference final for granted.
"The guys in that [dressing] room know exactly what's at stake, and what we have in front of us for Game 6," Bylsma said yesterday. "I think we expect a team that's going to be real desperate.
• Matchup: Washington Capitals at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
"I don't think there's going to be a letdown. We know we're going to face a team that's good, that's dangerous and that's going to be giving everything they've got.
"And it's going to require everything we've got to get that fourth win."
Two of the Penguins' three victories so far have come in overtime, both on goals when Washington defensemen inadvertently deflected pucks past goalie Simeon Varlamov.
Those two goals account not only for the Penguins' 3-2 advantage in the series, but for their 16-14 edge in goals.
Washington teams in the past often responded to adversity by displaying the tensile strength of wet tissue -- the Capitals could devote an entire chapter of their postseason media guide to series in which they've squandered leads -- but not this group.
In Round 1, the Capitals overcame a 3-1 deficit against the New York Rangers. And while that doesn't mean Washington will make a habit of coming back, it shows what the Capitals are capable of doing.
"Both teams have shown their resiliency and their ability to stay in a game, no matter what," Penguins right winger Bill Guerin said.
This will be the fourth time this spring the Capitals have faced elimination. That the total has reached four tells how they fared in the first three.
"When we lost the first two to New York, we were in the same situation," Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin said. "Our team understands there's only one more chance for us to move forward."
And if the exceptional talent of some of Washington's personnel -- care to contemplate how this series might be different if, say, Alexander Semin or Mike Green had had more of a positive impact in the first five games? -- is mixed with the desperation of a team on the cusp of elimination, the result could be a potentially lethal cocktail.
The Penguins, however, seem certain they understand what it takes to close out a highly motivated and capable opponent.
It took them two tries to dispatch Philadelphia in the opening round, but left winger Matt Cooke cites their 5-3 victory in Game 6 at the Wachovia Center, when the Penguins rallied from a 3-0 deficit, as evidence of a killer instinct.
"The proof of that is, you look at our Game 6 in Philadelphia, where we had a chance to win the series, and we did," he said.
The Penguins' prospects for ending Washington's season tonight will be greatly enhanced if they can limit the damage done by guys such as Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and can again hold down the number of opportunities the Capitals' volatile power play gets.
Washington is 4 for 15 with the extra man.
Washington figures to emphasize putting pressure on the Penguins' defense, something the Penguins have done effectively to the Capitals for most of the series. The Penguins likely will focus more on good execution than on tactical adjustments before Game 6.
"We've done a lot of good things," center Sidney Crosby said. "We don't need to change a lot."
That includes the respect they've shown for what the Capitals can do.
"This series is far from over," Guerin said. "We know that."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . First Published May 11, 2009 4:00 AM