NEW YORK – Tonight in Madison Square Garden, when he pulls on his red, white and blue jersey with the number 52 stitched across the back, Mike Green won’t need to be reminded that this could be his last game as a Washington Capital.
He knows. After 10 seasons as the face of the Capitals’ blue line, Green is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and there is a very good chance he won’t be re-signed by the Capitals.
Which is why he wants to win tonight’s Game 7 against the New York Rangers as much as, if not more than, any player in the visitors’ locker room.
“Absolutely,” Green said. “More than I ever have. This is a special time and I really feel fortunate to be part of this right now. I want to be playing, just like every other guy in this dressing room. Regardless of contracts, it doesn’t matter. We want to keep playing. It has more to do with the special bond we have. We love coming to the rink and we don’t want that to end.”
Green, who will turn 30 in October, has been through it all in Washington.
He was there when the Caps finished with the NHL’s third-worst record in 2005-06. He was there for the arrival of Alex Ovechkin and the wave of promise that followed. He led all NHL defensemen with 31 goals in 2008-09 and followed with a career-high 76 points when the Caps went wire-to-wire to win the Presidents’ Trophy in 2009-10.
But he’s also been there for the playoff failures. The crushing Game 7 losses to Philadelphia in 2008, Pittsburgh in 2009, Montreal in 2010, and New York in 2012 and 2013.
Maybe that’s why he’s looking at tonight’s Game 7 in Manhattan as a window and not a door.
“There’s an opportunity here and that’s the key word, opportunity,” Green said. “None of us wants that to go to waste. We want to create something special here, especially with this group of guys. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s not over yet.”
Whenever this playoff run ends, Green will begin looking at his future. With an annual salary of over $6 million, many believe Green can earn at least that figure on the open market. And with big raises ahead for restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson, the Capitals will be hard-pressed to keep their veteran defenseman, not to mention unrestricted free agents Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Curtis Glencross and Tim Gleason.
Which brings us back to tonight. In eight career Game 7s, Green has been on the congratulatory side of the handshake line just three times. He has just one assist in those eight Game 7s.
Asked his mindset going into what could be his final game with the Capitals, Green referenced a happier Game 7 memory from just 16 days ago, when the Caps limited the New York Islanders to 11 shots in a 2-1 victory at Verizon Center.
“It’s leave it all out there,” Green said. “We’ve been in this position before. Last series against the Islanders we played a great Game 7. We need to have that same mentality and that same feeling after the game. We’ll do everything we can to accomplish that.
“The preparation, the feeling in the room, the commitment to the execution of our system. But really, the will and the want is what it came down to [against the Islanders] and we wanted it more.”
Green also said that when the Caps lace up their skates tonight at the Garden, they will be feeling the support of a fan base that wants them to erase the bitter playoff memories of the past just as much as they do.
“They’re a part of our team, too,” Green said. “They’re just as much a part of our celebration as we are. We’re playing just as hard for ourselves, but for them, too.”