Saturday night inside Madison Square Garden, the Washington Capitals will play a game seven in which one team is the favorite. One team had the banner regular season. One team led the Eastern Conference in points. One team is a betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Sound familiar to a Capitals fan?
It should. But as we all know, this year, is different. This year, the Capitals are the upstart underdog, the team pushing the top seeded club to the brink for a decisive game seven on the road. It is their opponent, the New York Rangers, that have the MVP candidate, the all-star coach, and the top seed in the Conference. And, both among most pundits and in Las Vegas, it is the Rangers that are expected to win.
For the core of these Washington Capitals, this will be the sixth game seven that they have played as a group. Brooks Laich, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green have compiled a 2-3 record in those decisive games, disappointing results to say the least. Of course, prior to this year, that group had played all of their game sevens inside Verizon Center, a period in which they put together a 1-3 record.
In the one road game seven that they have played in the last six years? A thrilling 2-1 victory over the Bruins last month that sent the Stanley Cup champions to the golf course.
In sports, a lot of focus – media, player, and organizational – is often placed on home ice advantage, and how the regular season is so important because if you are the top seed, you earn the right to home ice throughout the Conference playoffs. But to some of the Capitals, they say the mindset is different – and decidedly better – when you are heading in to an opposing team’s building for the final game of a playoff series, because it allows you to be a bit more relaxed, and a little bit less under pressure.
“I would say it’s a different mindset,” said center Nicklas Backstrom following practice on Friday. “I mean we don’t have the pressure on us. They are the number one seed and they have the pressure. We just have to go up there and throw everything we have at them.”
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