The Washington Capitals take on the New York Rangers (again) Wednesday, in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff series (again) but will they clam up and lose (again)?
This year feels somewhat different from years past because there are some variables in place that can send Barry Trotz’s team past the finishing line. Let’s take a look at the top four reasons why the Capitals will move on.
1. Alex Ovechkin
Immediately following the Game 6 defeat Sunday, Ovechkin controversially guaranteed a win for his team Wednesday in New York. Trotz backed up his captain and even thoroughly endorsed the sentiment. I expect Ovi to walk the walk against the Rangers and enjoy a successful evening.
He shows up for the big games, and as long as the rest of team also shows up (which hasn’t happened in the past), then the Capitals can prevail. If Ovechkin can lose the two Rangers who attach to his hips – then it’s even better for the Capitals. And if the Capitals land a few power plays with Ovi on fire, one or two or three from his shooting gallery will find the back of the net.
2. The Defense
The six men who took the ice Sunday for Game 6 – and should take the ice Wednesday if Tim Gleason is fit to play – have played in a combined 368 playoff games. Along with that experience (including a Stanley Cup win for Brooks Orpik) comes a level of confidence and synergy not witnessed in recent seasons in Washington.
The current defensive lines for the Capitals will play a huge part in whether or not the team wins Game 7. If Orpik and his mates toe the line of eliminating the Rangers’ forecheck and wear down the opposition with sheer hitting power – and if they maintain concentration by protecting their goalie – the Caps will win.
3. Kuzy and Barracuda
The two rookies on the Capitals team, Evgeny ‘Kuzy’ Kuznetsov and Andre ‘Barracuda’ Burakovsky are a major story in this postseason. The soft-spoken pair has earned a solid place in the starting lineup by upsetting Henrik Lundqvist’s apple cart on numerous occasions.
The King knows all about Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer, Nicklas Backstrom and the other veteran Capitals. But these two young upstarts? Probably not so much, and that’s why Kuzy and Barracuda have tallied two goals each in the series. The good thing about being rookies is that even if the opposition figures you out, you can re-invent yourself fairly easily for the next game. These two young men have stellar NHL careers ahead of them; I see one of them or both of them getting points Wednesday in a Caps win.
4. Braden Holtby
The memory of the last (horrific) Game 7 defeat against the Rangers in 2013 has now dispersed from Braden Holtby’s mind; that’s because the man has some kind of superhero way of not letting things upset him or get to him – or something like that – he explains it better than I do: “The mental game is kind of the thing I pride myself on. That’s what’s got me to this level,” is how Holtby put it in a recent interview about his icy demeanor in games. He has 1.72 GAA for his 12 playoff games so far compared to a 1.95 GAA in the 2011-12 postseason and a 2.22 GAA in the 2012-13 postseason. His regular season was his best ever and many pundits and experts predict that he’ll be the next superstar goalie.
It’s quite simple – if we see the Holtby we’ve seen for 97 percent of the games this year – the Caps win.
Is a perfect storm brewing for the Washington Capitals? Is this the year that the crop of guys who have been with the Caps since 2005 finally make it to the Conference Final and therefore reward their coach with the same ‘first’? I’m going with a huge ‘probably, almost certainly, maybe, yes.’
They’re not called the Cardiac Caps for nothing.