ALEXANDRIA, VA — Tonight the Washington Capitals visit the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden for Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
For the Capitals, it’s one final game, one final opportunity to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 14 years. The New York Rangers, having finished in the top spot in the Eastern Conference in the regular season and just two points shy of the President’s Trophy, face extreme pressure to avoid being eliminated from Stanley Cup action and dashing such high hopes in the Big Apple.
Winning Game 7 on the road is the large task at hand tonight for the Washington Capitals. The players know it, head coach Dale Hunter and his staff knows it, but it’s the game plan already in place that will dictate this evening’s affair.
“We’re so focused on our game plan and our system that everything should come natural to us,” defenseman Mike Green said. Just play. Play with everything you have and don’t leave anything behind.”
The system Green refers to is a defensive-oriented one that demands every single player hold themselves accountable on the ice. The plan took a while for Dale Hunter to instill in his players, but as of late it’s brought the team together and resulted in confidence at the perfect time of year.
“I love these guys,” said Hunter. “They’ve had everything thrown at them, but they keep blocking shots. Doin’ the little things. The word character is a good word for this group in there.”
As the saying goes, what happened in the past is in the past. You can only control what’s in front of you. Ask many Capitals players about the mishaps in recent years. That was then. The opportunity to advance, is now.
“We’re desperate to get there,” forward Brooks Laich said. “You can’t keep saying every year, ‘Well we’ve got a good team and it will come.’ Eventually you have to push through and do it.”
It will be the sixth time in the past five post-seasons that the Capitals have been a part of a Game 7. Most recently they eliminated the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in this year’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals. But a 2-3 record in the previous five is being all but ignored by the players in the dressing room that experienced those grueling contests.
“We know what to expect and I think that’s the key,” Green said. “We prepare the way we prepare, control what we control, and we’ll be fine. You just got to go with your instincts.”
Capitals Post-Season Notebook
~Forward Jay Beagle is questionable for tonight’s game at MSG. After blocking a shot by Rangers defensemen Anton Stralman, Beagle was absent from practice at Kettler on Friday. Veteran forward Jeff Halpern will remain in the lineup if Beagle isn’t cleared for action.
~Congrats to starting netminder Braden Holtby and his fiance Brandi Bodner on welcoming new son Benjamin Hunter Holtby to the world. A very exciting time.
~If there is any doubt in Capitals Fans, they certainly didn’t show it on the eve of game 7. Fans were seen sporting the Red throughout Old Town Alexandria and Georgetown.
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Darren is the Washington Capitals correspondent. He spent the 2010-11 season covering the Atlanta Thrashers and the 2011-12 season covering the Columbus Blue Jackets. Feel free to contact him @ DKoz256@yahoo.com. You can also follow him on Twitter. DarrenCoslov