April 25 vs. Boston Bruins at TD Garden Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 3 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 3 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (42-32-8), 92 points
Boston Bruins (49-29-4), 102 points
Game 6, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series (series is even, 3-3)
For six games, the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins have played perhaps the most historically even series in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the two teams was reduced to a best-of-five and then a best-of-three.
Now, it’s a best-of-one.
The Caps head back to Boston on Wednesday for Game 7 of their set with the Bruins. The winner gets a date and a foe for the second round of the playoffs. The loser gets an early start to its summer.
Boston has held the series lead twice and Washington once. The series was tied at 1-1, 2-2 and now 3-3.
For 387 minutes and 31 seconds over a span of six games, the Capitals and Bruins have been virtually inseparable on the scoreboard. The two teams have been tied for 268 minutes and 54 seconds. Washington has led for 74:14 and has lost six leads. Boston has led for 44:23 and has lost four leads.
Only the Capitals have led by as many as two goals, and that bountiful advantage lasted all of 2:54. Three of the six games went into overtime and – for the first time in Stanley Cup playoff history – all six have been decided by a single goal.
The Caps have won two of the three games in Boston and the Bruins have taken two of the three tilts in the District. Each team has scored 14 goals. Washington won two straight games (4 and 5) at one point and must now prevent the Bruins from doing the same in order to keep its season going.
Boston won Game 6 by a 4-3 score, evening the series on Tyler Seguin’s brilliant goal at the 3:17 mark of overtime.
That’s why the two teams are returning to Boston on Wednesday night for a deciding Game 7.
If there’s one thing that might be nagging the Capitals, it could be the fact that their airtight defense has sprung a few leaks in the last couple games. Boston scored just one goal on Caps rookie netminder Braden Holtby in the first five and a half periods of the series. The B’s needed four games to net their first seven goals of the set. But the hibernating Bruins’ attack has shaken off its collective slumber in the last two games, scoring seven times.
The Bruins had six 20-goal scorers during the regular season. Through the first four games of the series, only one had scored. That was Chris Kelly, who supplied the overtime game-winner in Game 1. But in the last two games, three more of those 20-goal scorers – Seguin, David Krejci and Brad Marchand – have found the range.
Boston has also gotten four goals from its defense corps and three tallies from Rich Peverley.
In the last two games, lapses and mistakes have crept into the Capitals’ game, and the Bruins have pounced on them. Needing just a goal to nail down the series in Sunday’s Game 6 at Verizon Center, Washington seemed tentative and lethargic in overtime. The Capitals were guilty of four giveaways in the extra session, and Seguin and the Bruins made them pay the price on the fourth one, forcing the series back to Boston.
“We want to tighten up,” says Caps center Brooks Laich of Game 7. “We definitely don’t want to be in a track meet with these guys. We want to keep the game tight, keep pucks to the outside and chip and chase; make their [defensemen] go back to get it. The series has been tight. There is not a lot of room out there. It almost becomes just a game of mistakes, and the team that makes the least is probably going to win.”
The 2011-12 Washington Capitals believe they’re better attuned to playing a Game 7 than recent vintage Capitals teams. Since Dale Hunter took over behind the Washington bench in late November, there has been a renewed commitment to defense. The Caps have learned to love the 2-1 and 3-2 wins more than the 6-4 and 5-3 triumphs of seasons past.
“I think it’s a lot different,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “I think it’s a different team. We play the way you’ve got to play to win in the playoffs. We were trading chances big time in the other series before this year. We’ve kept them in check pretty good and we’ve done a pretty good job. We felt we played pretty good in Game 6; you get into overtime and anything can happen. One mistake and it ends up in your net.
“But we feel good where we are. If you’re not going to have fun with this moment as a hockey player, this is what you dream of playing. It sounds corny, but if you’re playing road hockey [as a kid] this is what you dream of, scoring Game 7, big-game goals. It’s going to be a fun game.
Given the taut, tense hockey played for nearly 400 minutes in this series, this set probably deserves a Game 7. Both teams have had a good deal of recent Game 7 experience.
“You learn from all Game 7s,” says Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Learning is one thing, I think it’s experience – how much you learn – when it gets down to Game 7 we’ve seen it go either way. I’ve said before, there’s no guarantees in Game 7s. The only thing you can hope is that your experience of playing through them will help you stayed composed and do the right things.”
Boston tied for second in the league during the regular season with 260 goals scored, but the Bruins have managed just 14 goals in six games against Washington in this series.
“You have to give them credit,” says Bruins forward Brad Marchand of the Capitals. “They really tightened up defensively and all year they seemed to want to play an offensive game and want to try and stretch it out. Right now they’re just really tight defensively and they’re not giving up a whole lot of opportunities. We have to give them credit for that.”
There has been little difference between rookie Holtby and seasoned veteran Tim Thomas, the Boston goaltender. There has been little difference between the two teams’ special teams play. There has been little difference between the respective forward lines and blueline pairs for both sides.
Now, it’s going to come down to one game.
“It’s been a great series,” says Seguin. “Washington’s a great team and we were battling and for whatever reason the game lasted and they didn’t make it easy on ourselves. You go the extra mile so Game 7 at the Garden it’s what we’ve been working for, home ice advantage so we’re going to seize the opportunity.”