When it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there is nothing like the excitement, nervousness and spectacle of a Game 7. These are the games every hockey fan lives for in the playoffs. Tonight’s Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals certainly will not disappoint. Who will prevail from this back-and-forth series? Patrick and Erika debate…
New York Rangers By Patrick Hoffman
Tonight the New York Rangers and their passionate fans will be experiencing all kinds of feelings when they take on the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden.
For both the Rangers and Capitals, this game marks the second seventh game of the postseason that they will be participating in. The first time around, the Rangers were able to beat the No. 8 seed Ottawa Senators by a score of 2-1. Meanwhile the Capitals, the No. 7 seed, were able to beat the No. 2 seed Boston Bruins in overtime by the same score of 2-1.
While the Capitals have had success against the Rangers in Game 7’s before, this year will be different. As a result, the Blueshirts will be headed to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1997. Here are the reasons why:
- Henrik Lundqvist There is no doubt that come Game 7, Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist will be one extremely focused netminder.
A Vezina Trophy finalist for the fourth time in his career, Lundqvist will be out to prove that he can be a playoff goaltender and one that can win hockey games when it matters most. He was able to do so in Game 7 against the Senators by turning in a terrific 26-save performance.
The ‘King’ should be ready to do the same thing tonight against the Capitals.
- Clutch players raring to go When looking at the Rangers roster you do not see too many superstars.
With that said, they do have someone that has won a Conn Smythe Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in the postseason and a Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. That man is Brad Richards.
While Richards has not always been present in this series, he did score the clutch game-tying power play goal with 6.7 seconds left to go in Game 5. The goal got the Rangers into overtime where they won the game to take a 3-2 series lead.
Another player that has the ability to put pucks in the net in key moments is Marian Gaborik. As you will remember, it was Gaborik that scored the triple overtime winning goal in Game 3 that, at the time, gave the Rangers a 2-1 series lead.
Like Richards, Gaborik needs to start producing more and putting the puck in the net. There will be no better time to do so than a Game 7 at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
- Home Ice If you have ever watched a Rangers postseason game at MSG, you will know that it is quite the memorable event.
With fans waving their white towels consistently, the loudness of the building, and the crowd on their side, the Rangers tend to become a dangerous team to play against. In fact, in their Cup run in 1994, the team was able to win a pair of Game 7’s on home ice.
The team and their crowd will be more than amped up for tonight’s Game 7 and it should be something that will help the Rangers tonight. Home ice never comes in handy more than it does in a Game 7.
In the end, it should be another terrific Game 7 between these two clubs but this time, it will be one that has a happy ending for the Rangers and their fans. ---
Washington Capitals By Erika Schnure
It's no secret: the Washington Capitals have faced some unexpected adversity this year. After a mediocre regular season that no one predicted, the Capitals have somehow turned around their fortunes when it comes to the postseason.
Once ridiculed for lackluster playoff appearances, the Capitals have faced a Game 7 in both their playoff rounds so far. They've battled hard – all but one of the Capitals 13 postseason games have been decided by just one goal. And this time, if the Capitals do bow out on Saturday night, no one will be able to say that they didn't live up to expectations.
But the Capitals' season will not end on Saturday.
The team's success so far in the postseason could be attributed to any number of causes. It could be the spot-on execution of Dale Hunter's system, the composed and also sparkling play of goaltender Braden Holtby, the penalty kill, or maybe the team's seemingly newfound ability to rebound from losses. Here are some of the big factors in the upcoming Game 7:
- Dale Hunter's system and playing underdog Perhaps it's because the Capitals, who often were expected to win in the postseason with higher seeds, are now the underdog, and are striving toward defying everyone's expectations. "People count us out," Karl Alzner said after Game 5 of their series against the Boston Bruins. "We like to be the underdog, actually. It's nice to play this way, because I think it's a little more frustrating for people."
Frustrating is right. Though the Rangers led the playoffs in blocked shots in Round 1, the Capitals have surpassed them in that statistic in Round 2, playing against each other. The Capitals aren't just blocking a few more shots than the Rangers – thus far, the Capitals have blocked 293 shots to the Rangers' 248 through two rounds.
Players have picked just the right time to buy in to coach Dale Hunter's defensive system. In particular, and most importantly, Hunter has convinced Alex Ovechkin to buy in.
- Alex Ovechkin Despite seeing his minutes reduced, Ovechkin has made the most of his ice time. He's been everywhere: scoring goals, hitting, blocking shots, cheering on his teammates from the bench, and trying his hardest to get wins. He's had no better game so far than Game 6, and if he comes out for Game 7 like he did Game 6, he's going to be a one-man wrecking crew – and will make a massive impact.
- Braden Holtby A huge reason for the Capitals' success this postseason has been goaltender Braden Holtby. Coming in to the series against Boston, many discounted Holtby as "just an AHL goalie," having played in just over 20 NHL games in his career. But he's shown that the NHL playoffs are his specialty. He's made save after highlight save, and with a 1.95 goals against average and a .935 save percentage, he's among the league leaders in the playoffs.
His poise, composure, intense focus has drawn much attention from commentators; and after Thursday, Holtby has so much more to play for. On Thursday, Holtby's fiancée gave birth to their first child, a son named Benjamin. To us mortals, that might seem a distraction. But for Holtby, who appears to be immune from distractions, he is sure to see his son's birth as a reason to play even harder and win – for him.
Holtby's already got a Calder Cup Championship ring (2010) on his finger – could a Stanley Cup ring in his NHL rookie year be next? Who knows; but at the very least, leading the Capitals to their first Eastern Conference Final appearance since 1998 seems to be a lock.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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