In 2008, I watched from the press box as the life was slowly sucked out of Washington Capitals fans in the Verizon Center during a tied Game 7 against the No. 6-seeded Philadelphia Flyers; when "Rock The Red" optimism morphed into John Hurt looking down at his stomach in "Spaceballs" and muttering "oh no, not again." (You know, right before the alien burst through his chest and did that ragtime routine.) Their misery ended on Joffrey Lupul's overtime power-play goal.
In 2009, I witnessed the Capitals battle back from an inexplicable 3-1 deficit to the No. 7-seeded New York Rangers, forcing a Game 7 in D.C. There was a moment early in that game when the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist nearly had a two-goal lead, but the Capitals rallied for a 2-1 victory to advance.
Later in Spring 2009, the Capitals had another Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and ... well, these memories are etched in the minds of both fan bases. Semyon Varlamov flaming out after shouldering the load for two rounds. Pittsburgh scoring five consecutive goals, including one by noted sniper Craig Adams. Marc-Andre Fleury's critical save on Alex Ovechkin's breakaway in the first period. Penguins won, 6-2, and it wasn't even that close.
Wednesday in D.C. is yet another Game 7 for a Bruce Boudreau playoff team, which is becoming a wearisome and troubling trend for his NHL tenure. This time it's the Montreal Canadiens -- the 16th-best team in the playoffs based on regular-season record -- who have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to make this a one-game series.
The Habs have already shown in this series that their style of hockey, when executed, keeps the Capitals' offensive in check and the games winnable. They take away Ovechkin's space and counter-punch well. The notion that they could pull this off for a fourth time in the series, and third time in D.C., is hard to conceive.
Yet the notion that the Capitals will continue to self-destruct in this series isn't.
The game plan for the Canadiens tonight is spelled out in our "Seven Reasons There's a Game 7" post from after their Game 6 win.
They need to be the better team in the first 10 minutes, preferably having scored a goal in that time frame. They need Michael Cammalleri to continue to have a revelatory playoff as the best offensive player in the series. They don't need Jaroslav Halak to give them another performance that rates with names like Dryden and Roy like he did in Game 6; they just need him to be exponentially better than whatever's between the pipes for Washington.
Oh, and for the Capitals to put more than 40 shots on goal, too. That's key.
The Habs also have to continue to help spiral the Washington power play into the plumbing. Malfunctioning at a 1-for-30 clip, it's gone from the team's greatest asset to its most crippling liability. What used to capture momentum is now sapping it. It's symbolic of the playoff failings of players like Alex Semin and Mike Green; if either can make a difference in Game 7 -- keeping in mind Ovechkin has goals in two of the three Game 7s he's played in -- the Capitals will advance.
A few takes from around the Web, beginning with Habs blog Eyes on the Prize:
The loss of Tom Poti for Game 7 is a big one for the Capitals. Crater sized. The experienced stay-at-home rearguard is almost an anomaly on the Washington blueline, a steadying influence to the younger and volatile kids that have a tendency to get caught up in the excitement.
If I'm Bruce Boudreau (with more hair, smaller belly), I bring Poti behind the bench for the seventh game, just for that settling influence.
Darn curious ain't it, that in the Western Conference, it is the first, second, third and fifth seeds that have advanced with the Detroit Red Wings clinching the series win over the Coyotes last night. In the east so far, it is the fourth, sixth and seventh seeds that have advanced.
In numbers one to eight, the one left to fill is the eighth place Habs!
This team didn't win 54 games in the regular season by accident; they did so by being better -- better than every other team in the League. Certainly better than Montreal and its under-sized (and under-skilled) forwards, slow-footed blueliners, inexperienced goaltenders and oft-maligned bench boss. And definitely better than they've played in the last two games.
The fact remains that the Caps are still the better team and there's every reason to believe that they will be [in Game 7]. The team should know it and should play like it -- with swagger, not fear; confidence, not cowardice. Get busy living, or get busy dying. And so on. At the end of the night, the "shaky-handed goalie" is going to be shaking hands with twenty Capitals -- let's hope they can look him in the eye knowing that he's been kicked out of their collective heads.
Homer McFanboy has a great look back at the other playoff failings and foibles for this Capitals franchise, while Mike Vogel of Dump and Chase brings it home:
The Caps have not led in the last two games. They have not led after the first period in any of the six games. Montreal has outscored the Caps 8-3 in the first period, and seven of the Habs' goals in the first frame have come in the game's first 10 minutes.
Montreal has managed multiple goals in the first three times in this series. Washington allowed multiple goals in the first period just three times in the first 38 games of the season, but it has done so an alarming seven times in its last 15 games.
Getting an early lead in front of its home crowd could do the Caps a world of good as they try to extend what was the best regular season in franchise history.
"It's what we all play for," says Caps right wing Matt Bradley. "It's fun and it's nerve-wracking at the same time. You don't want to be going home after the game; it adds a lot of pressure. But that's what we play for, those do-or-die games. It will be a lot of fun."
Yes, fun; or a soul-crushing moment of playoff pain for the local fans, who will suffer through a summer of second-guessing and potential scape-goating for an inexcusable postseason flop.
Win or lose, there will be adult beverages poured around Chinatown on Wednesday night. That's pretty much the only certain thing about this Game 7.