Trailing 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Washington Capitals fed off the energy from the home crowd, hit their opponents, and scored timely goals to earn the opportunity that they get tonight: Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals at stake.
“Everybody recognizes the importance of the game. It’s a great opportunity not only for our team but for the other team,” said head coach Barry Trotz.
“It’s just a great opportunity and an experience that 40 players and two organizations and coaching staffs are gonna have today and you’re just gonna leave everything out there. And if you do that, you won’t have any regrets no matter what.”
If the Capitals play with the same effort that they did in Game 6, that same desperation, it should serve them well. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 34-24, Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season, the Caps outhit the Bolts 39-19, and won the special teams battle. That contest was an emotional night for the boys in red, who came into that game 0-2 at home in the Eastern Conference Finals prior to the drop of the puck Monday night.
Now with the biggest Game 7 with the biggest stakes this franchise hasn’t seen in a long time, expect the emotion to skyrocket. Tom Wilson said that while there will be a lot of emotion, the goal is to keep it in check and play their game.
“You got to use that emotion and adrenaline, but you’ve got to keep it in check and walk that line of, you know, playing that way but not crossing the line,” said Tom Wilson.
How will the Caps manage their emotions? Playing with discipline.
“Discipline is a big part of this time of year, playing the right way,” Wilson added. “I think our team’s been pretty good at controlling the ups and downs of the game making sure that we’re doing whatever we can to bounce back after something happens.”
Another hurdle the Capitals had to battle this spring was the naysayers and the people who brought up the infamous DC Sports drought. Defeating the Penguins and getting this far for the first time in 20 years was a big step forward for the franchise. Now with the entire city behind them, Washington looks to continue playing into June.
As we’ve seen from this team all spring long, none of those guys in that room care about the history or the numbers. Instead, they’re determined to create history.
“I think guys are focused. We’re not thinking about anything else but the game and being prepared. You don’t have to walk around and squeeze your stick the whole time or consume yourself and use your energy,” said Trotz.
“Use your energy tonight, have good energy, and bring it. I think our message is that you’ve earned the right to play this long and we’re gonna try our best to earn the right to keep playing.”
If the Capitals come out victorious, who will be the hero? Who will join that small but elite group of Dale Hunter, Sergei Fedorov, Joel Ward and Evgeny Kuznetsov? Maybe it’s Alex Ovechkin, who has waited his entire career for this opportunity. Maybe it’s Nicklas Backstrom. Maybe it’s a bottom six forward like Jay Beagle, Jakub Vrana, or Devante Smith-Pelly. Regardless, everybody has their chips placed to the center of the table. Everybody is all-in.
“Everybody’s as motivated as they can be. I don’t think there’s a player that doesn’t want to make a difference tonight,” said Trotz.
Tonight, we are ALL CAPS.
By Michael Marzzacco