“These are the games you remember.”
That’s what Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter says about Game Sevens. He’s right. For both players and fans, it’s all about how the team finishes. Washington has done a complete 180° from their regular season ways during the playoffs. Of course, their defense is what everybody in the media is talking about. They have also been mentally tough. The most valuable trait seen by this reporter has been their consistency.
Caps fans know what they are going to get from their team tonight at Madison Square Garden. We’re no longer asking whether Alex Semin will show up, whether their goaltending will hold up or whether Mike Green can improve his defense. All we are asking is if the Caps can get the last break in a series where the Rangers have seemingly gotten all the breaks. It’s useless to go back on the “what could have been’s” with regard to Games 3 and 5. Washington has responded, and it all comes down to today.
For a team mired in playoff disappointment, today could be the day that changes everything. This isn’t the 1998 Washington Capitals who were happy to get swept in the Stanley Cup Finals. This team is not overmatched against anybody. They are the epitome of ”it doesn’t matter how they play, it matters how we play.” If Washington comes out with jump in their skates tonight, New York will be back on their heels faster than one of John Tortorella’s press conferences.
Don’t get me wrong, I have full confidence that the Rangers will come out extremely strong. My point is that if Washington does the same, they are a better team with more speed and more playoff experience. While not all that experience has been good, the team has embraced the underdog role and is looking to slay some of their demons.
One notable absence will Jay Beagle down the middle for the Caps. Gritty veteran Jeff Halpern has stepped in and is looking to win his fist playoff series in a long career. If there was ever an X-factor type guy to root for, it’s former Capitals captain Jeff Halpern. Winding down on the end of his career and a 19 game scratch streak (before Game 6), a Jeff Halpern GWG or strong performance is the kind of vindication and storyline that every team needs on the way to a Cup. For once, the Capitals seem to be on the right side of all the media stories. The hot young goaltender, the unselfish Captain, redemption and a rookie coach.
What more could any hockey fan want tonight? Game 7 in the biggest city, on the biggest stage with one of the greatest players in the league trying to prove once for all that he can lead. It will be a great game that probably comes down to a bounce. Who will the Hockey Gods shine upon tonight? No one knows but, one thing is known. Win or lose, this is a game we will remember.