New coach, new year, same result. Through six games, the Capitals and the New York Islanders are deadlocked at three wins apiece and will need Game 7 to decide the victor.
The Caps are no strangers to this situation as this will be the team’s eighth Game Seven in eight seasons, though they have struggled to find success with wins in only two of them.
On Sunday, however, the team made clear that they were not thinking about the past.
"Honestly, I haven’t even thought about the record about Game Sevens," Karl Alzner said. "We’re a different team and each year there’s a different challenge and this year I think our team is good at handling a lot of these challenges that we’ve come across.
"I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about making sure I have my best game."
"We're not worried about the historic element," Troy Brouwer said bluntly.
In just his first year with the team, head coach Barry Trotz was not in Washington for the Caps' past Game Seven struggles. Though he was quick to say that the past didn't matter, he also said he did not want the team to ignore it, but instead embrace the lessons they had learned from those experiences.
"I think they’ve learned. I hope they’ve learned," Trotz said. "You learn something from every series."
When asked what he had learned, Alzner said, "Having a short memory. Being able to forget about being scored on, being able to forget about what happened the game before and then also knowing that you have to throw everything out there. You can’t wait until the third period, you can’t wait until you’re down, it’s right from the start."
That experience was evident on Sunday as there was a sense of calmness about the players despite being just one loss away from clearing out their lockers.
The Caps failed to end the series in Game 6 and now face their first elimination game of the postseason. Yet there was no frustration or nervousness from the players, only excitement.
"It’s kind of the game we all wait for," Alzner said. "...It’s super exciting just because there’s so much at stake and you see who can rise to that occasion, that challenge and knowing that you might have that feeling. That excited feeling at the end of the game is something that kind of drives you."
Though the moment of a Game Seven can offer its own challenges to players and teams, there's also a calming simplicity to it. Suddenly teams stop worrying about closing out a team quickly or injuries could affect them in the next round. All that matters is that one game.
"Whoever’s willing to put more on the line will come out with the victory," Trotz said. "That's in simplest terms."
"It’s all about one game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "You’ve got to come focused tomorrow and really come together and work as a team. That’s how you win."