After squandering an opportunity to close out the Boston Bruins at home in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Sunday, a chip was instantly placed on the Washington Capitals’ collective shoulders. It was not placed on there by them. It was put there by those who invoked history, automatically handicapping the Caps’ chances somewhere between slim and none in winning Game 7 Wednesday.
In defense of those who looked to the past, they have a valid point. Washington is 2-7 all-time in Game 7’s, including a paltry 1-3 in its last four with its current core of star players. But for the Caps themselves, none of that matters.
“We know when our backs are against the wall,” Karl Alzner said after Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss. “We know how to face that now and how to come back and score goals and just play good hockey. It will be nice to go into that rink with a little less pressure, I guess. Just go in there with kind of a ‘screw you guys’ attitude to everybody in the building. It’s just go out there and play some hockey. I think that’s going to be good for us.”
Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. These Caps are confident, but not cocksure. What is driving them Wednesday is the chance to prove those who have already counted them out wrong.
“We’ve gone through a lot and we’ve battled through a lot of adversity,” Jeff Schultz said after Tuesday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex when asked what a win Wednesday would mean. “We can persevere through a lot of things. I think it’ll prove to a lot of people who doubted us and prove to ourselves that we are a great team.”
Doubters are everywhere, but in proving people wrong, the Caps would also be proving people right. After all, this is the same team that was anointed as the team to beat before the season began. The journey just took a slight detour.
“It would prove a lot,” Alzner said, “Just going out for dinner after last game [Game 6], we’re hearing people saying we don’t even deserve to be in the series and we shouldn’t even be in the playoffs. It’s hard to understand why people are saying that. Because we didn’t finish in first or second place in the regular season, we’re not worthy of being in the playoffs or being on the same ice as Boston? That’s one of the things that we wanna prove, is that regardless of how the regular season goes, we’re a good hockey team. It matters now. That’s the only thing. So for us, it’s proving a lot of people wrong and it’d be really nice to do it.”
A win Wednesday would be historic. It would be the first Game 7 road victory in franchise history, but for this current crop of Caps, it would mean so much more. This is a team yearning to make a simple statement.
“That we’re good,” Nicklas Backstrom said matter-of-factly.
When you wipe away the conjecture and historical analysis and strip the Caps to their bare bones, all that remains is that chip on their shoulder. And to paraphrase Alzner, if they knock that off Wednesday, they will have made one more simple statement.