NEW YORK -- News, notes and quotes as the Caps and Rangers get ready to tee it up in one of the most anticipated Game 7s in Capitals history tonight at 7:30 at Madison Square Garden [6-:30 p.m. pregame, CSN]:
Best night in hockey: Is there anything better in sports than a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Caps left wing Jason Chimera doesn’t think so.
“If you don’t [cherish this] you don’t have a heartbeat,” he said. “This is what you want to play for. You play street hockey and play Game 7s in your mind. If you can’t have fun with this you’ve got something wrong with you.”
Forget history: The Caps have heard nothing but negative numbers leading up to tonight’s games. About how they are 3-5 in Game 7s in the Alex Ovechkin era. About how Henrik Lundqvist has won five consecutive Game 7s. About how they are 0-4 when blowing a 3-1 series lead to force a Game 7. Quite frankly, they’re tired of it.
“History is history,” Chimera said. “That’s why they call it history. We’ve got to make new history.”
Been here, done this: Since the Caps and Rangers met in the first round of the 2009 playoffs, five players have played in all 32 playoff games between the to teams: Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and defenseman Dan Girardi and Capitals forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and caps defenseman Mike Green. Rangers defenseman Mark Staal and Caps forward Brooks Laich have been with their teams since then but missed payoff games games because of injury.
Lineup change? The Caps are expected to start tonight’s game with the same forward lines and defense pairings that ended Game 6. That means Marcus Johansson should begin Game 7 on a top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but don’t be surprised if Tom Wilson isn’t given a shot on that top line.
Game 7 hero? Who will be the hero of Game 7?
“That’s just a great question,” Brooks Laich said with a smile. “I have an opinion, but I’m going to keep that to myself.”
“It’s not going to be one person that wins this,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s going to be everyone doing the exact same thing right.”
Joel Ward, who scored the game-winning goal in Boston in overtime three years ago, said several factors can play into how a hero become a hero.
“I don’t know what to say, just have fun,” Ward said. “You don’t put any pressure on yourself. You’ve just got to go out there and have fun. Just embrace the moment and shoot pucks, chip it in, get in front of the goalie. A lot of guys step up in different ways. It’s not always making the last shot. Sometimes it’s the guy who sets the pick or the guy that creates the turnover. That’s why I think hockey is the ultimate team game.”
Beating the best: To get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, the Capitals will need to beat a goalie [Henrik Lundqvist] who has won nine straight elimination games and is the only goaltender in NHL history to win five straight Game 7s. Lundqvist has an 0.80 goals-against average in his last five Game 7s, allowing four goals in five games.
“As a player you want to play in these moments when the game is on the line and your season is on the line and show what you’re made of,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneaul said. “There’s no doubt Hank loves these situations and I think the rest of our group also does.
“We were less than a couple of minutes away from our season being over [the Caps led 1-0 with 1:41 remaining in Game 5] and we found a way to survive. We found a way to win in Washington [in Game 6] and we want it to continue. We’ll give it our best shot tonight.”
Power outage: The Caps are 1-for-12 on the power play against the Rangers and are 0-for-10 in the past five games. The Rangers have essentially taken away Ovechkin in the left circle by playing him man-to-man.
“I can’t really tell you because that wouldn’t be really smart on my part,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said of adjustments he’ll need to make. “You don’t have to make sweeping adjustments but you have to make some.”
Could the Caps try Mike Green on the top unit? Could he replace Troy Brouwer in the diamond with Joel Ward or Jason Chimera?
Ovi time: After making a bold prediction the Caps would come back to win the series following Sunday night’s loss in Game 6, Alex Ovechkin sat out Wednesday’s morning skate and will be the focus of attention tonight.
“Big game, big-time player,” Trotz said of his 29-year-old captain. “I expect him to have a big game. I said earlier this year, it seems like the bigger the stage and the bigger the moment Ovi seems to rise. He’s done that all year and I expect that tonight.”