WASHINGTON — If you’re planning to tune in for tonight’s deciding game between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, you’d best be served by having the supplies — because it could be a long one.
A seventh game provides high enough stakes at it is, but the history of both franchises would suggest that overtime (or multiple overtimes…again newspaper editors are cringing everywhere) is a distinct possibility.
Well, the series has been ridiculously close, with the Caps currently holding a 12-11 edge in goals scored and five of the six games being decided by one goal (two of which, played at the Verizon Center, requiring overtime).
After Game 6, several players seemed resigned to the fact this one would be going seven.
“I kind of thought right from the beginning of the series that it was going to be a long one,” said Capitals D Karl Alzner. “Game 7 against this team is kind of normal now. We’re ready for it.”
The subject of familiarity has been prominent, as the two teams are meeting for the third consecutive spring and fourth time in five years.
Of the Caps’ past nine playoff series, seven of them have gone the distance, including three against the Rangers.
“Our team has been a part of a lot of Game 7s and we have a lot of experience in the dressing room,” Caps RW Eric Fehr said roughly two hours before puck drop. “Hopefully, we can take from that and be ready to play.”
The home team has won each of the previous six games in this series.
Just last spring, the Rangers defeated the Caps’ in Game 7, but that game was played at Madison Square Garden and the Rangers are 0-5 in seventh games played on the road in franchise history.
This marks the first time since 2001 (Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings) that two teams met in consecutive playoff seasons and went seven games in both.
Speaking of stats, the Capitals are 10-1 vs the Rangers at Verizon Center so they’re hoping home-ice proves to be an advantage one more time.
“You know the magnitude of it, for sure. You’ve got to approach it the same way,” said Caps LW Jason Chimera. “Go out, play simple. It’s going to be a fun night. It’s Game 7 of the NHL playoffs. It’ doesn’t get much better than this.”
I’ve discussed the Ovechkin drought at length, but in case you’re wondering, the man who has been held off the scoresheet the past four games, has two goals and four points in six previous Game 7s. Either he’s due to break out in a big way or the slump will reach an unthinkable five games — unthinkable because Ovechkin averaged a goal per game during the final 23 games of the regular season and finished with 32 in 48 regular-season games.
The Caps are 2-4 in those six Game 7s and only 1-3 when the game is played at Verizon Center, so you can expect the hometown faithful to be on pins and needles.
We’re about to find out if the Caps can exorcise some demons or if they’ll add another chapter to their unspectacular playoff history.
“We’re going to talk about trying to control our emotions,” said Caps head coach Adam Oates. “It’s our building, our crowd, it’s going to be exciting. You know what? You’ve got to be able to take that energy in and just control yourself.
“I really think that the team that handles those moments and the adversity the best, will come out on top.”
Just as the Caps’ have been saying all series long, discipline will be a key factor in this deciding game, as Washington has been guilty of several poorly-timed retaliation penalties.
“Obviously, we have to try not to get into too many scrums, that’s something they’re more interested than we are,” said Fehr. “We’re just going to try and play our game, try to play in their end and create some offence.”
Oates said roughly two hours before the game that neither LW Brooks Laich (groin) or LW Martin Erat (suspected left wrist/forearm) was going to play. However, Oates did mention he was considering one lineup change, so it’s possible Aaron Volpatti might replace youngster Tom Wilson on the fourth line. Volpatti offers a bit more experience, but I like the way Wilson has played in limited minutes and has more offensive upside.
(UPDATE: Looks like Oates agrees with the assessment as Wilson took all of the line rushes and appears to be staying in on fourth unit for Caps)
There had been some concern that Caps D Mike Green may have gotten banged up in the melee that broke out at the end of regulation of Game 6, but Oates said he was “good” so he’ll be in the lineup.
I was on the train when the Rangers held their media availability, but here’s a quick leftover hit from Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist from Sunday night.
“They play really well at home and they’re confident. I think the games we played in that building special teams played a huge part and tonight we played a really disciplined game. It’s going to be key for us because they have a really good power play. You have to respect that. Play hard, but play smart — I think that’s going to be really important,” said Lundqvist, who posted a 27-save shutout in Game 6.
My friends from the New York media were kind enough to pass along a few quotes from Rangers head coach John Tortorella’s media session this morning.
Here are some of the highlights:
On offensive guys like Rick Nash (one assist) and Ryan Callahan (two assists) being held in check so far: “Here we are now in Game 7; I think a few of our guys are due. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing over on their side. I think that’s very important as we enter tonight‘s game.”
On home-ice in Game 7: “I think there is an advantage to the home team but quite honestly we’re the visiting team and we really don’t care.”
On balancing experience and youth? “This is how you hopefully become a playoff savvy team is going through these experiences. We have some of that going through a few last year and I think some guys, they don’t have a clue what they’re doing, they don’t have a clue about the pressure and sometimes that’s good. Hopefully it will be beneficial for us tonight.”
Most consistent part of Rangers’ collective game? “I think we have defended pretty well. We’ve done a pretty good job there. Our goaltending has been outstanding.”
Here’s how we expect both teams to start on Monday:
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr-Mike Ribeiro-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera-Mathieu Perrault-Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner-Mike Green
John Erskine-John Carlson
Jack Hillen-Steve Oleksy
Braden Holtby (Michal Neuvirth)
NEW YORK RANGERS
Carl Hagelin-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Mats Zuccarello-Derick Brassard-Rick Nash
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Derek Dorsett
Chris Kreider-Brad Richards-Arron Asham
Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto-Anton Stralman
John Moore-Steve Eminger
Henrik Lundqvist (Martin Biron)