“Never tell me the odds.” Han Solo
The Washington Capitals have a long, complicated history of not winning the “big one.” Their record in Game Sevens in their 37 years in D.C. is not glorious. In fact, it’s downright awful at 2-7, and just 1-3 since the lockout, with all four of those appearances in their own building, no less.
Considering all that history, it’s so bad around here some of my blogging brethren have come to expect the worse, anticipating defeat rather than investing emotionally in the prospect of advancing. Is it better to be pessimistic and pleasantly surprised by an outcome rather than optimistic and be disappointed by a result?
There’s been plenty of disappointment to go around through the years. But you know what? None of that history was made with this group of players and this head coach. Sure, there are some very important similarities, but there are enough elements changed in the construction of the roster and the management thereof that any comparison to the Capitals previous Game Seven results is rendered moot.
As well with Boston. Much will be made of their success last season, winning three Game Sevens on their way to the Stanley Cup. But you know what? That won’t help them on the ice Wednesday night. They have to go out and earn it, just like the Caps will try to do.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien knows this. “It’s been a dogfight from start to finish; late goals or overtime games. I think both teams are heading into Game Seven with the same kind of confidence. They’ve beaten us twice in our building, we’ve beaten them twice here.”
It’s true: according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this series is the first in NHL history to have each of the first six games decided by just one goal. Both teams have scored 14 goals in the series. It cannot get any closer than that.
Dale Hunter, seeming more relaxed than an NHL rookie head coach should be (at least to some in the fan base), obviously doesn’t sense any dread over the final game of this series. “Game Sevens are exciting games because it’s do or die for both teams and they’re awesome to play in,” he said after his team dropped Game Six. Almost like he was looking forward to it all along.
Caps fans are not looking forward to it. They wait, nervously. The combined angst of Caps fans in the social media right now is enough to give anyone a complex. But it’s just not important that Dale Hunter as a player was 1-3 in Games Sevens. It’s not important that Pat LaFontaine beat the Caps in the fourth overtime in 1987. It’s not important that Joffrey Lupul did the same in overtime in 2008. ’10 against Montreal. ’92, ’95, ’09 against Pittsburgh. ’88 against the Devils. None of it matters.
Wednesday night’s game is an opportunity for this edition of the Washington Capitals. After a tumultuous and, frankly, disappointing regular season, they have a chance to oust the defending Stanley Cup Champion on Boston’s home ice, something of a redemption for the seemingly disinterested way they slogged through the regular season.
I’m not making any predictions about the outcome, because it’s just been too close to call. I’ve been wrong more times that not trying to guess what the Caps are going to do from one game to the next. I’ve had them buried so many times this season you could call me “The Undertaker” instead of George McPhee.
Sure, it’s unfortunate the Caps couldn’t take care of business at Verizon Center Sunday night when they had the chance, but the Bruins were the more desperate team out there and they played like it. It hads nothing to do with either team’s history. This Bruins team is talented, big, mean and proud, much like their goaltender. They weren’t going to lie down for the Caps just because Game Six was in Washington. The Caps had to expect Boston’s best, and they got it. The Caps went toe-to-toe with them, forced overtime, then made one too many mistakes to survive.
Both teams now get two days rest to heal some of the collected bruises from the first six games. Neither team has to be told what’s at stake. Both fan bases will be on edge. It’s one game to see who advances.
Just don’t compare what the Caps do Wednesday night to any other team in this franchise’s history, because the discussion is immaterial. This team will win — or lose — on its own merits.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.