Every kid who has ever held a hockey stick in his hand has imagined nights like tonight.
Game 7. A playoff season on the line. On quite possibly the biggest stage in the world.
At 7:30 p.m. tonight the lights will dim at Madison Square Garden, John Amirante will step onto the carpet for the national anthem and it will be difficult to keep your heart from jumping out of your chest.
You cant beat it, said Capitals left wing Jason Chimera when asked to describe the emotions that will fill every player before tonights seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Capitals and New York Rangers.
The nervousness, the anxiety. You want to get out there and do some stuff. You want to prove yourself, get out there and help the team out as much as you can.
You know its on NBC, CBC and everyones going to be watching. Its in New York. You cant beat it. Its a big stage. Its fun. It sounds corny, but when youre a little kid you always dream of these moments and you dream that the pucks on your stick and youre scoring that goal. Its one of those games you could re-live a lot of dreams.
Game 7 has been a mixed bag for many of these Capitals. Since first making the playoffs in 2008, the core group of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom has played in five Game Sevens and has won two.
In 2008, the Caps lost 3-2 in overtime at home against the Flyers. In 2009 they beat the Rangers at home 2-1 in Round 1, then lost Game 7 at home to the Penguins 6-2 in Round 2. The Caps also lost Game 7 at home to the Canadiens 2-1 in 2010. And on March 25 they beat the Bruins in Boston in Game 7 by a 2-1 score.
Theyve been on both sides of it, Chimera said. Youre not so nervous going into it. Thats a good thing. You can start a little better. Youre not just waiting to see what happens. Youre going to go get it instead of just wait around. So I think thats a big thing. Weve got to go get it. You cant just wait around for something to happen.
So how is a Game 7 different than any other playoff game?
Its much different because two teams know one is going to lose, the season is going to be over for them, said Ovechkin, who has two goals and two assists in five career Game Sevens. I hope luck is going to be on our side.
Ovechkin believes the Capitals experience with Game Sevens should allow them to embrace the pressure that comes with tonights game. The Capitals have not reached the third round of the playoffs since Ovechkins arrival.
Im going to enjoy it a lot, actually, he said. Its best time of the year right now. Were in the second round and we play against the New York Rangers in their home and its going to be fun and its going to be very important game for us. Were 100 percent in.
In their Game 7 against Boston, the Caps and Bruins played a very patient, methodical game before Joel Ward won it in overtime. Many expect a similar tight-checking game tonight against the Rangers.
Weve played 13 games absolutely the same way so a 14th game like the other ones would be pretty typical for us, Mike Knuble said. I think thats comforting us going into a Game 7, that you know how your team is going to play. There are no what ifs, theres no wondering or having to keep your fingers crossed. Its just go out and play and play the way we have been playing, get the final break and win the game.
Ward, who has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows during these playoffs, said that after two full days of talking hes ready to decide things on the ice.
Just drop the puck, he said. I think were just kind of a little bit antsy. We just want to get er going. We know what were up against. Its a building that weve been in before and were just excited for the opportunity that we have in front of us.