Confetti streamed down from the rafters at Madison Square Garden, and the fans roared as their team celebrated. But the New York Rangers had not earned anything other than a thrilling overtime victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday.
Two days later, it was the Capitals' turn to bask in the cheers of their home fans after a 2-1 win at Verizon Center. But they, too, have not yet accomplished their short-term goal: advancing to the Eastern Conference finals. The two teams are even at three games apiece in their best-of-seven series with the deciding Game 7 set for Saturday night in New York. It has been yet another best-of-seven series in which the differences between the clubs have been negligible and momentum impossible to sustain. Neither team has managed to win two games in a row.
"It's because the teams are so evenly matched," Washington forward Brooks Laich said. "They're a very good hockey team. It's very tight. It's tough to get scoring chances. It's tough to maintain momentum in the course of a game."
|Capitals at Rangers|
|When » Saturday, 7:30 p.m.|
|Where » Madison Square|
|Garden, New York|
|TV » NBCSN|
One of the teams finally will impose its will in Game 7 and advance to the next round, where the New Jersey Devils are waiting. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals will be Monday night with the Caps opening on the road at 8 p.m. if they beat the Rangers.
The first goal will be critical. Washington is 7-1 in Stanley Cup playoff games in which it scores first. It did so in Game 7 of the first-round series at Boston and again Wednesday in a Game 6 win over the Rangers. But when the Caps fall behind first they are 0-5. While they were winning on the road in the first round, New York beat Ottawa in Game 7 at home.
"I don't know if it's too much of an advantage," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "I think we have to make sure we get off to a good start. What happened in previous series doesn't matter. Throw that out the window and make sure we come ready to play Saturday."
This will be Washington's sixth Game 7 since 2008. The Caps are 2-3 in those contests; they won at Boston last month, and the other victory was in 2009 against New York at Verizon Center. Laich said that with the exception of a Game 7 blowout loss to Pittsburgh in 2009 -- one he said he would rather forget -- the other four Game 7s have featured similar elements: a tentative start, a natural fear on both sides of making that first mistake. It's up to the players to find a way past that.
"You can't get froze up by the pressure or the intensity," Laich said. "You just have to let yourself be free and enjoy it and then after that whatever you are, if you're a skater, you have to skate. If you're a shooter, you shoot. You just let your natural abilities take over and compete your tail off."
Rookie goalie Braden Holtby became a new father Thursday when his fiancee gave birth to their son, Benjamin Hunter Holtby, at a local hospital. According to the Caps, mother and baby are doing well. The 22-year-old rookie goalie has started all 13 of his team's playoff games this spring and is 7-6 with a .935 save percentage and just 28 goals allowed.