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CAPITALS: Washington Hoping Experience A Factor In Game 7

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

ARLINGTON – Alex Ovechkin doesn’t keep many Game 7 moments fresh in his mind.

Sure, he could cite the victory over the New York Rangers in 2009 as a bright spot, one which allowed the Washington Capitals to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals despite falling down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

He could even look back to the overtime victory over Boston in the first round, which allowed the Capitals the opportunity to play in the decisive game against the Rangers tonight.

“Most important thing is we just have to win them,” Ovechkin said. “Sometimes memory is good, sometimes memory is bad.”

Two weeks of back-and-forth playoff hockey will be put to rest tonight for one of two teams as the Capitals head to Madison Square Garden looking to finish off the Rangers for the third time in four years.

The winner of the series will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where it will play New Jersey for a shot at the Stanley Cup.

Washington has only advanced in the playoffs three of the 10 times it played in a Game 7, though nine of those occasions are ancient history. It’s the most recent, the 2-1 victory at Boston on April 25, that the Capitals find they can draw the most experience from.

The game tonight figures to mirror that one – much like the entire series has. All seven games against the Bruins were decided by one goal, and with the exception of a 3-1 victory by New York in Game 1, every other game has been won by the team with the single-goal advantage.

While the games have been tight, the Capitals’ approach has not. A light-hearted practice Thursday was also reminiscent of the day before Washington’s decisive seventh game against the Bruins – one in which head coach Dale Hunter said his advice to his players was merely to go out and have fun.

“Each day that you’re still here is an earned day,” center Brooks Laich said. “There are other teams that are sitting at home and you have to keep earning your days to play. … I think that’s why you see people still having fun – they really appreciate being able to come to the rink. And we’re right in the thick of things, in a Stanley Cup chase, playing good hockey against good hockey teams – it’s a very exciting time of year.”

The Rangers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, are 4-0 in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since the building was renovated in its current form in 1968. That total also includes a victory over Ottawa in the first round, giving New York its own recent history to draw upon for guidance.

But for the Capitals’ core group of Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom, it will be the sixth time they’ve played in a deciding game since 2008.

“You just got to go with your instincts,” Green said. “We’re so focused on our game plan and our system that everything should just come natural to us. And just play – play with everything you have and don’t leave anything behind. That’s Game 7 right there.”

The Capitals played what was certainly their most complete game of the postseason – and maybe even the regular season – on Wednesday, a 2-1 victory in Game 6. Ovechkin scored 1:28 into the game on a power play, Jason Chimera added an insurance goal midway through the second period and Braden Holtby didn’t allow a goal until the final minute, when the Rangers pulled Henrik Lundqvist from net.

“With two days off, we’re going to see a good game,” Hunter said. “There’s going to be fresh legs. I think both teams are going to come out and play hard because there’s more energy.”

The last time the Capitals made it to the Eastern Conference Finals was in 1998, when they defeated Buffalo in six games before being swept by Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals.

For a team that entered the season with such high expectations, an opportunity to play for the conference championship could lead to several unforgettable moments.

“You’re playing for your life,” Laich said. “You’re playing to continue to chase your dream. It’s a tough thing to do, to eliminate a team, because their dream is to win the Stanley Cup, and to take that from somebody is a very tough thing to do. Game Sevens usually turn out to be very tough hockey games.”


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