And so it’s come to this, Game 7. Despite taking a 3-1 lead in the series after four games, the Caps now find themselves in a win or go home situation as they head back to Madison Square Garden with the series deadlocked at three games apiece.
“Probably not the path when you are 3-1 you want to take,” head coach Barry Trotz said following Game 6. That may be the understatement of the year.
After winning Game 4 at home, the Caps found themselves on win away from advancing to the conference finals for the first time since 1998. They came within 1:41 of advancing in Game 5, but the Rangers were able to tie the game late and win it in overtime. After a lackluster start doomed the Caps in Game 6, they now face the daunting task of having to return to New York with both teams facing elimination.
Despite how they got to this point, the Caps still feel encouraged by the opportunity of needing only one win to advance over a team that was the NHL's best over the course of the season.
“Pretty excited,” Brooks Orpik said when asked how he felt about returning to New York. “Best team in the league, Presidents’ Trophy winners, chance to play them in Game 7. I think everyone’s pretty excited about it.”
The last time these two teams met in a Game 7 was in 2013 when the Caps were on the wrong end of a 5-0 dismantling. That game was at Verizon Center. Wednesday’s will be in New York.
The Caps, however, say they will draw on their past experiences to mentally prepare themselves. Even those who were not around two years ago have their own experiences to draw from.
“I play three times in playoffs in KHL and I know what it is when you lose the important game and when you play in a final and you lose the Game 7,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “I know [this] feeling and I know [the] feeling when you win the game. Everybody understands in our room.”
The Caps also intend to draw on their effort in the third period of Game 6 when they were able to turn a 4-1 deficit into 4-3 to spark them going forward.
“We just have to take the good part of [Game 6] and move on to the next game and play our best game of the year,” Marcus Johansson said.
“You have to stay positive and find a way [to] beat these guys,” Kuznetsov said.
They seem to be taking that message to heart as there was more positivity in the locker room following Game 6’s loss than you would expect given how they failed in two opportunities to advance and now face a Game 7 on the road.
Trotz, however, was adamant that the pressure was not on the Caps alone to win Wednesday.
“The pressure is the same on both teams, really. It is one game. Loser goes home. You can’t say there is more pressure on us than them.
"No matter what, someone is going home.”