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Game 7: Caps ready for puck to drop


Game 7: Caps ready for puck to drop

Every kid who has ever held a hockey stick in his hand has imagined nights like tonight.

Game 7. A playoff season on the line. On quite possibly the biggest stage in the world.

At 7:30 p.m. tonight the lights will dim at Madison Square Garden, John Amirante will step onto the carpet for the national anthem and it will be difficult to keep your heart from jumping out of your chest.

You cant beat it, said Capitals left wing Jason Chimera when asked to describe the emotions that will fill every player before tonights seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Capitals and New York Rangers.

The nervousness, the anxiety. You want to get out there and do some stuff. You want to prove yourself, get out there and help the team out as much as you can.

You know its on NBC, CBC and everyones going to be watching. Its in New York. You cant beat it. Its a big stage. Its fun. It sounds corny, but when youre a little kid you always dream of these moments and you dream that the pucks on your stick and youre scoring that goal. Its one of those games you could re-live a lot of dreams.

Game 7 has been a mixed bag for many of these Capitals. Since first making the playoffs in 2008, the core group of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom has played in five Game Sevens and has won two.

In 2008, the Caps lost 3-2 in overtime at home against the Flyers. In 2009 they beat the Rangers at home 2-1 in Round 1, then lost Game 7 at home to the Penguins 6-2 in Round 2. The Caps also lost Game 7 at home to the Canadiens 2-1 in 2010. And on March 25 they beat the Bruins in Boston in Game 7 by a 2-1 score.

Theyve been on both sides of it, Chimera said. Youre not so nervous going into it. Thats a good thing. You can start a little better. Youre not just waiting to see what happens. Youre going to go get it instead of just wait around. So I think thats a big thing. Weve got to go get it. You cant just wait around for something to happen.

So how is a Game 7 different than any other playoff game?

Its much different because two teams know one is going to lose, the season is going to be over for them, said Ovechkin, who has two goals and two assists in five career Game Sevens. I hope luck is going to be on our side.

Ovechkin believes the Capitals experience with Game Sevens should allow them to embrace the pressure that comes with tonights game. The Capitals have not reached the third round of the playoffs since Ovechkins arrival.

Im going to enjoy it a lot, actually, he said. Its best time of the year right now. Were in the second round and we play against the New York Rangers in their home and its going to be fun and its going to be very important game for us. Were 100 percent in.

In their Game 7 against Boston, the Caps and Bruins played a very patient, methodical game before Joel Ward won it in overtime. Many expect a similar tight-checking game tonight against the Rangers.

Weve played 13 games absolutely the same way so a 14th game like the other ones would be pretty typical for us, Mike Knuble said. I think thats comforting us going into a Game 7, that you know how your team is going to play. There are no what ifs, theres no wondering or having to keep your fingers crossed. Its just go out and play and play the way we have been playing, get the final break and win the game.

Ward, who has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows during these playoffs, said that after two full days of talking hes ready to decide things on the ice.

Just drop the puck, he said. I think were just kind of a little bit antsy. We just want to get er going. We know what were up against. Its a building that weve been in before and were just excited for the opportunity that we have in front of us.

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This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat


This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

Since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time over one month ago, Caps fans, (and players), have rushed to their local tattoo parlor to get some ink commemorating the win.

We've seen the classic Capitals logo with the Stanley Cup, but nothing that comes close to the masterpiece that is Shane Peacher's tattoo.

Peacher tweeted to Joe B and Courtney Laughlin the finished tat: a work of art featuring Alex Ovechkin kissing the Stanley Cup for the first time as it's hoisted over his head.

Joe B replied making sure Shane had enough room on his other tricep for next year.

Shane replied that he's thinking of Evgeny Kuznetsov's iconic celebration that has since been dubbed the "birdman."

Shane got his Caps tattoo at the Helix Tattoo Lodge in Rising Sun, Maryland, by tattoo artist, Justin Holcombe.


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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?