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Capitals' Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams is ready for Wednesday's 'fight of will' against the Penguins

Capitals' Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams is ready for Wednesday's 'fight of will' against the Penguins

Justin Williams has earned the nickname ‘Mr. Game 7’ for his clutch performances in hockey’s most pressure filled moments.

On Wednesday night at Verizon Center, the 35-year-old three-time Stanley Cup champion will skate in his first Game 7 as a Washington Capital. And, from the sounds of it, he can’t wait for the opportunity to grow his legend.

“The approach is our backs have been against the wall for two games,” Williams said after the morning skate in Arlington, “and now theirs are, too.”

“It’s going to be a fight of will,” he added. “And I can tell you one thing: I’m going to give everything I have tonight, make sure I don’t let my teammates down and everyone in this room is going to do the same. We’ll be fine.”

Williams is 7-0 all-time in Game 7s. In those decisive contests, he’s amassed a whopping seven goals and seven assists. 

Hence the nickname. (Which, for the record, Williams does not like).

“I don’t have any doubts what Justin is going to bring,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s going to bring his all. And his ‘all’ is pretty good.”

Braden Holtby said Williams’ mental approach to big moments is what separates him from the rest.

“Obviously he doesn’t shy away from anything,” Holtby said. “He never does. He’s never scared to make a mistake. He wants to go out there and accomplish something, and those types of guys are usually successful in pressure-filled games.”

“In saying that, we know he’s going to show up,” the goalie continued, “but we can’t lean on him too much. We need to have the full group if we’re going to have success.”

[Related: Penguins goalie Matt Murray will dress tonight, but will not start]

A goal (or two) from Williams wouldn’t hurt, either. He’s still searching for his first tally of the second round after potting three against Toronto.

“You learn a lot more about yourself, your team, your makeup when it’s win or go home,” Williams said. “And so far we’ve answered the bell. Now it’s their turn. Both us will be colliding tonight and I’m expecting an awesome game. We have a will to win that’s burning.”

And, of course, it’s the will to win burning inside Williams that's helped him deliver in the clutch so often.

“This is not the apex, but it’s pretty close,” he said. “This is the stuff you’re thinking of when you’re a kid. This is Game 7, this is do or die, win or go home. This is everyone’s watching, so let’s see what we’ve got.”

Related: Did Evgeni Malkin gaurantee a win for the Penguins in Game 7?

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The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

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USA Today

The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

Coming into training camp, we already knew who the Capitals’ seven defensemen were going to be this season. Among those seven is Madison Bowey who, with a new two-year, one-way contract, looks like a lock to make Washington’s roster.

In terms of playing time, however, Bowey still has a lot to prove and, according to Todd Reirden, he has not yet seen enough from him.

“We're going to put [Bowey] in opportunities where he can play minutes and play with different people and see where he's at,” Reirden said Sunday. “Obviously our three pairs we had last year worked well for us and we're fortunate to have all six of those guys back. That being said, he needs to make it a difficult decision for me on a nightly basis. That's in his hands. He needs to push me in that direction of making a change to that group because as of right now he wouldn't be.”

The Capitals’ top four on defense is set meaning Bowey will be competing for time on the third pairing with Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos. With only three preseason games left before the start of the regular season, that makes Tuesday critical for Bowey to show Reirden that he deserves not just to make the team, but to be a regular in the lineup.

“I've always been trying to be a guy that's hard to play against and making sure it's a tough night for the opponents,” Bowey said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “For myself, it's playing a two-way game and sticking to that. When I'm kind of throwing my weight around and being engaged and playing with urgency, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

The issue Reirden sees is that while there are strengths to Bowey’s game, they are not always prevalent on the ice in games.

“I think he's got to continue to allow the things that are difference makers in his game to show up,” Reirden said. “He's a big strong guy that can skate so he's got to be very difficult to play against in the defensive zone. And his skating ability up ice has got to be a factor in terms of adding to the offense when he gets the opportunity and trying to use his shot and his offensive instincts in zone. Those are the things he has in his toolbox that we need to see more on a regular basis.”

In addition to being a physical defenseman, Bowey also possesses strong offensive instincts. Yet, neither aspect of his game was all that evident last season when Bowey was still adjusting to the NHL. That sort of initial struggle is to be expected for many young players who tend to overthink the game. They need time to let the game become more instinctive.

But now, it is time to see improvement from Bowey in those areas.

“When I'm thinking and not just playing my game, that's when you can get into trouble,” he said. “When I'm just playing urgent, trusting my instincts and letting the game come to me, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

When talking about his expectations for him on Tuesday, Reirden described Bowey as a “veteran.” He’s not seen as a developing player anymore.

Clearly, the standard has been raised for Bowey. He needs to respond.

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John Carlson will make his preseason debut Tuesday, but Devante Smith-Pelly will not

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USA TODAY Sports

John Carlson will make his preseason debut Tuesday, but Devante Smith-Pelly will not

A lower-body injury kept defenseman John Carlson out of the first few days of training camp and has thus far kept him out of preseason action. On Tuesday, however, as the Capitals head to St. Louis to take on the Blues, Carlson will be in the lineup for his preseason debut.

Carlson was held out of Friday’s game as a precaution, but head coach Todd Reirden said he was “really close” at that point to returning. He will play with his normal partner Michal Kempny.

Carlson enters the season on a new eight-year contract that he signed in the offseason. This is a big year for him to prove to the team that his career year in 2017-18 (15 goals, 53 assists, 68 points, all career highs) was a reflection of his true value and not simply the result of a motivated player playing for his next contract.

While Carlson is set to make his debut, forward Devante Smith-Pelly still will be held from the lineup.

Tuesday’s game will be Washington’s fifth preseason game out of seven and Smith-Pelly has yet to play in any of them.

Reirden would not go into specifics as to why Smith-Pelly is not in the lineup. When asked Friday, Smith-Pelly called it a “coach’s decision” and said he was not dealing with any injury.

Reirden had no real update to offer on Monday regarding the winger’s status.

“It’s something that we’re going to continue to monitor every day and get him close to playing,” Reirden said.

While no one is expected to play every preseason game, Smith-Pelly is rapidly running out of time to get any playing time in before the start of the regular season. If he is not ready to play yet in the preseason, it is fair to wonder just how far away he may be from suiting up when the games actually start to matter.

Missing Tuesday’s game means there are only two chances left to get Smith-Pelly into the lineup with games on Friday and Sunday.

When asked how many games Smith-Pelly would need to prepare for the season, Reirden said, “Ideally, I'd like to have him ready for as many as possible. As soon as he's ready to play, he'll play.”

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