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CAPITALS: In Tight Series, Loose Is The Approach To Game 7

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

ARLINGTON – While most teams facing an elimination game would be tightly wound, their anxiety high and their focus narrow, the Washington Capitals have adopted a different attitude.

Why be jittery for Wednesday’s first-round finale at Boston, which will determine who moves on to the Eastern Conference semifinals?

“I mean, there’s no point in having nerves right now,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “This is fun. This is what we’re hoping for. We’re still the underdogs here. We’re going into Boston and I know we like that energy in our dressing room right now and we’re gonna use that to our advantage.”

Squandering an opportunity to put the best-of-seven series away at home, like the Capitals did Monday, would be cause for alarm for most teams – especially when playing the Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup last spring despite three or their four playoff series stretching to all seven games.

But Tuesday morning, after their final practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex before heading north, players were loose and conversational. They spoke of their own personal histories in a Game 7 – if not with the Capitals the last time it happened against Montreal in the first round in 2010, a loss – then perhaps with other teams or at different levels of the hockey pyramid.

Washington lost to the Canadiens in that series, squandering a 3-1 lead before falling in the decisive game at home. It also lost in Game 7 in 2009 to Pittsburgh, a series that’s not all dissimilar from the one the team is currently playing in – defensively minded, one-goal games.

All told, Washington is only 2-7 in franchise history when playing in Game 7, including a victory over the New York Rangers in the first round in 2009, and before that, an overtime win against Philadelphia in the Patrick Division Semifinals in 1988.

Twelve current Capitals were on the team when it fell to Montreal two years ago and know the sting of the loss. Others have played elsewhere – for example, Holtby in 2009, when he was in juniors, or Troy Brouwer last year in Chicago.

“Right now, it’s a battle of a series,” Brouwer said. “Neither team really has a ton of momentum going into this game, especially with two days off. … We’ve been playing good sound hockey and that’s what we have to do. We can’t get too excited, we can’t get too antsy and [we need to] try to score as many goals as we can right away.”

Every game in this series has been decided by one goal, marking the first time it’s happened in NHL history. The scoring hasn’t been spread out, either; only twice in the series has either team held a two-goal lead. And home-ice advantage hasn’t meant much, with each team taking two of three on the road.

That has put the pressure on the defense and the spotlight on the goalies, where it was at the start of the series. Boston’s Tim Thomas, the veteran, has played capably for the Bruins; so, too, has Holtby, the 22-year-old Capitals rookie.

“This whole series has been like that, and I think we’ve handled it as a group pretty well,” Holtby said. “I don’t think anyone really expected us to be here, even in a Game 7, and you know, we like this pressure. We’re here to show that we’re not gonna back down.”


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