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ARLINGTON, Va. – Alex Ovechkin is Washington's third-line left winger as they face elimination against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
At least, that is what coach Barry Trotz did in practice Friday as the desperate Capitals, down 3-1 in their second-round series, prepared for Game 5 on Saturday night in Washington. The Penguins could be getting Sidney Crosby back from a concussion, too, but the Capitals were focused on their own problems.
From Ovechkin to goaltender Braden Holtby and beyond, the Capitals need substantial changes to happen to turn the series around and force a Game 6. Whether their star stays buried on the third line is up to Trotz, but he has called out his top players since losing Game 4.
"(Ovechkin has) got to respond this next game and be a difference maker for us," Trotz said. "We need our top players to be the best players and that goes (for) everybody from our goaltender right through our lineup, forwards and defense. Those guys, they're the leaders, they're the guys everybody follows, they're the guys that have to lead the way."
Trotz said moving Ovechkin down the lineup and replacing him with Andre Burakovsky was a way to spread out offensive threats, but it's a drastic change staring down elimination.
"I have to do better," Ovechkin said. "If I have a chance to do something, I have to do it."
Knocking Ovechkin down to the third line with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson could blow up in the Capitals' face. But that wasn't a thought inside the locker room on the eve of a big elimination game.
"It could be good or it could be great," Eller said of Ovechkin's move. "We've got every reason to make it work."
The Capitals are down 3-1 to the Penguins just like last year. But Washington has outshot Pittsburgh in this series, and players feel they're a few opportunities away from being right back in it.
"The whole series feels different," Wilson said. "We feel like we're the better team, we feel like we've had a lot of opportunities. But we've got to back up what we're saying here. We've got to go out there and every single guy's got to work as hard as they can. I'm confident that if that happens, we'll win."
Don't expect any panic moves from the Ottawa Senators in their series against the New York Rangers going into Game 5 Saturday after consecutive road losses tied things up at 2.
"There is no momentum. There never is," coach Guy Boucher said. "It's back at zero, start again, back at the drawing board and go back to what we need to do."
Adjustments will be key for the Capitals and Senators to regain their footing. Washington has dominated in shots and been stymied by Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but it's up to Ovechkin and fellow stars Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie to finish, no matter what the line combinations are.
Some things to watch Saturday:
Rangers at Senators, Series tied 2-2 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Boucher expects Norris Trophy finalist Erik Karlsson to play after missing the third period of Game 4 Thursday night, and he said goaltender Craig Anderson will start after a rough go in New York. The Senators need Karlsson, their captain and top defenseman, to have any chance at winning the series against the Rangers, who are cool, calm and collected going back on the road.
"We feel good but we're not overexcited," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "It's a lot of work ahead of us here to try to win this series, but we're doing a lot of good things here."
Penguins at Capitals, Pittsburgh leads 3-1 (7:15 p.m., NBC)
A demotion for Ovechkin wasn't even the biggest development as Crosby took part in a full-contact practice Friday and could return following a concussion caused by a hit by Washington's Matt Niskanen in Game 3. Winger Conor Sheary, concussed in a collision with teammate Patric Hornqvist in the same game, also could be back, giving the Penguins the best lineup they can put out there without injured defenseman Kris Letang.
Crosby has a history of concussions, including one this past fall, but he's not worried about getting back on the ice too soon.
"I think having gone through this I'd like to think I'm pretty aware of my body at this point," Crosby said. "I understand the importance of making sure you're good before you come back. I have a lot of belief in our staff here that they're going to do everything in their power to make sure I'm good when I come back. I trust them. I trust the process."
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .
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