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The Capitals’ playoff hopes live on because stars like Alex Ovechkin shined in Game 5

Washington is still alive because its stars finally showed up.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Hockey people will tell you that hockey is the ultimate team sport. But even they can’t deny that star power is what draws so many people to this Penguins-Capitals series.

And until Game 5, the star power was shining mostly for one side.

Consider that Sidney Crosby scored twice in the series-opener, on Washington ice no less. And less than a minute apart. When he left with a concussion in Game 3, Evgeni Malkin stepped up and delivered the Penguins a miraculous two-goal comeback to force overtime. When the short-handed Penguins needed big stops in Game 4, Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 36 shots in a one-goal game.

That’s a lot of words to state the obvious: the Penguins had been able to string together big moments from big players when they needed them most. The Capitals hadn’t, and that’s why they faced the chopping block in Game 5.

And in what seemed like a span of five minutes in the third period on Saturday, the Capitals got that string and saved their season.

Down by one goal, Nicklas Backstrom scored after an unusually quiet night (he had scored in two straight games).

Then, a series of Holtby stops in tight.

A wicked, wicked shot from Evgeny Kuznetsov to gain the lead.

And a typical Alex Ovechkin goal: a gallop down the wing, a slice through traffic and a game-sealing wrister.

There they are.

If the Capitals had lost, bowed out of the playoffs early once again in front of their own fans, blame would rightly be laid at the feet of those four players. Not to mention the other notable Capitals: Kevin Shattenkirk has had a miserable playoffs, Andre Burakovsky went silent for four games, and T.J. Oshie hasn’t been noticeable. Even Noted Playoff Moment-Riser-Man Justin Williams hasn’t made a big impact in this series.

The inability to put away this Penguins team, hobbled with an ailing Crosby, no Kris Letang, a beat-up blueline and a cast of youthful but raw forwards would be the highest playoffs disappointment for a franchise full of them.

So credit where it’s due. Sure, to Capitals coach Barry Trotz. He desperately blended his lines, putting Ovechkin on the third line with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson and Burakovsky with Backstrom and Oshie. But line-blending is just the first step. It’s up to those star players (the envy of every other team in the NHL) to do something about this elimination game.

And they did it. For one game, the Washington Capitals looked like the Washington Capitals. For one desperate night, the best players on the NHL’s best regular season team actually played like it.

For their sake, they should hope they didn’t show up to the party too late.