This is it. Either the Capitals win tonight against the Boston Bruins or the season is over. It’s a familiar position for both teams. Washington is 1-3 in recent years when pushed to a final game in a series. The Bruins lost three Game 7s in a row after the 2004-05 lockout before winning three straight last spring en route to a Stanley Cup title.
As veteran winger Mike Knuble said, this is a 50-50 game. The Bruins have had the better puck possession in 10 meetings this year with the Caps. Maybe that makes the difference tonight. But in a one-off scenario there’s no guarantee even that would matter. The two teams have 26 goals each in those 10 games. But there are some basic keys Washington needs to adhere to if it wants to increase the odds on the road in a hostile environment.
“Number one is turnovers. We have to eliminate those through the neutral zone and that nullifies odd-man rushes against,” forward Troy Brouwer told reporters on Tuesday at Kettler Iceplex. “Number two is continue to make sure that we’re good in the neutral zone on the defensive end and not let them get speed into our zone. And the other [key] is just to play good defense like we have- blocking shots, making sure we’re clearing out rebounds and letting [rookie goalie Braden] Holtby do his thing.”
That’s a picture-perfect summation. But can the Caps pull that off for a full 60 minutes? Every game so far has been decided by a single goal, three of them in overtime. Another big key: Get off to a fast start. Or at least weather the storm early as the TD Garden crowd will be jacked and the Bruins right along with them. Give up two early goals and you’re in trouble. Stave them off, get a dirty goal and suck the air out of the building. It’s worked four times this season in this building. Does Washington have one more effort in it?
“Absolutely, no matter what game it is. You always want a good start and shake them up a little maybe,” forward Marcus Johansson said on Tuesday. “I think we have been getting pretty good starts lately even if we haven’t gotten the lead. But we have to go out and not change too much- just play the way we have been and have that urgency that we’ve had in the latest games.”
Let’s go back to turnovers. It was brutal pass up the middle by Nicklas Backstrom that led to Tyler Seguin’s overtime goal on Sunday in Game 6. Alex Semin was stripped by Seguin and – while he back-checked nicely and almost prevented a goal at the other end – the puck slid under his stick on a clearing attempt and sat in the slot for about two hours before defenseman Andrew Ference slammed home the go-ahead goal in the third period. Only Alex Ovechkin’s late tally nullified that one.
“We want to tighten up. We definitely don't want to be in a track meet with these guys,” center Brooks Laich said Tuesday. “We want to keep the game tight and keep pucks to the outside and chip and chase. It makes their D-men go back and get it. The series has been tight. There's not a lot of room out there. It almost becomes just a game of mistakes. The team that makes the least is probably going to win.
Added Laich: “That's their transition game. That's been Boston's identity. I remember three or four years ago doing video of keeping the pucks out of the middle against them. They have very good sticks – [Patrice] Bergeron, [David] Krejci, these guys in the middle – they have very good sticks at stealing passes and taking away lanes and transitioning with their speed. Just play a simple game. We got big wingers for the most part to keep pucks along the walls and try to win the battles there.
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