If Guinness was looking to add “World’s Largest Pressure Cooker” to its Book of World Records, it did not need to look any further than the 137,000 square foot pressure cooker conveniently nestled on top of an eight-story parking garage in Arlington, Virginia, Wednesday.
Inside, the Washington Capitals were preparing for what could have been a season-ending Game 6 and the tension could be cut with a knife. Passes were crisper, smiles were few and far between. Meanwhile, within the confines of the locker room, jokes were scarce and would have likely been appreciated. Minus assorted conversations relating to the game among the players, staff and reporters, the prevailing sound was silence.
“It’s more serious today,” Karl Alzner, the team’s conscience and primary liaison between the locker room and the outside world, said Wednesday. “We realize how important this is and we’re making sure everybody’s on. It’s a do-or-die game for us, so we’re all pretty intense.”
Friday, the Caps returned to Kettler as a result of defeating the New York Rangers 2-1, though they were under the same circumstances as Wednesday; they were still preparing for an elimination game – their fourth of the postseason – Saturday in Manhattan. Yet, the pressure that seemingly bared down on them Wednesday looked as it it had been lifted off their shoulders Friday. Laughter was at a premium, chirping in the locker room returned to normal levels.
That is because the pressure has shifted from 627 N. Glebe Road to Seventh Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets. “The World’s Most Famous Arena” has become the “World’s Largest Pressure Cooker.”
“You have to say it’s a little more on them,” Keith Aucoin said when asked where the pressure now lies in the Caps’ current playoff series. “They’re the number one seed and they had a chance to take us out, but we took care of business at home.”
In New York, everything comes under a microscope and its focus will squarely be on Madison Square Garden Saturday. Never have the Rangers hosted a Game 7 on Saturday night in franchise history and yet another postseason exit at the hands of the Caps – their third in four years – will be magnified under the bright lights of Broadway, even more so than in previous seasons when considering the fact that this is the best Rangers team record-wise since they last won the Stanley Cup in 1994.
Not that the Caps will not be feeling pressure of their own Saturday to continue their unexpected, yet once expected run, but at least they can share the load.
“We know that the pressure goes both ways a little bit more,” Alzner said. “It’s a little bit easier to handle things.”
Washington does indeed knows how to handle things. Lest we forget that the Caps are less than three weeks removed from winning a Game 7 on the road against the favored Boston Bruins, who were ultimately crushed under the pressure of defending their Stanley Cup. That only helps to alleviate any remaining pressure.
“I think that’s comforting us going into a Game 7 that you know how your team is going to play,” Mike Knuble said. “There are no ‘what ifs’, there’s no wondering or having to keep your fingers crossed. It’s just go out and play and play the way we have been playing, get the final break and win the game.”
Saturday’s game will be the only game; there will be nowhere else to turn for NHL hockey. There might be “nervousness and anxiety” as Jason Chimera admitted Friday, but most importantly for Washington, it is going to be “fun.”
“Everyone’s going to be watching,” Chimera added.
No pressure, New York.