In the NBA, home teams seem to win game 7s approximately 102 percent of the time, which is partly why life here has seemed so special the past couple of days. We have no idea what will happen in our game 7 tonight. We never do with decisive games in our sport. A good many folks seemed to believe that the Phoenix Coyotes had the upper hand heading into last night’s game 7 in the desert. Final, Wings 6, Desert Dogs 1.
And this is something to cherish and celebrate about our sport. Game 7s in hockey are extraordinary events. We don’t particularly like them when they occur as they have with circumstances such as those in this Caps-Habs series, but once the decisive game arrives, it affords an aura unlike anything else in our sport.
Game 7 bounces and deflections are unlike those for any preceding game of a series. Its officiating is uniquely under the microscope. Star performers carry a distinctive burden in a game 7. Role players can become lifetime heroes for a city from but a single shift.
Ticketholders are especially privileged for a game like tonight’s. It’s been special all season long to hold a ticket to a Capitals’ game in Chinatown. To possess one for game 7 against storied Montreal tonight . . .
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What was most striking about Kettler Capitals Complex at Tuesday’s lunch hour Caps’ skate was that media far and away outnumbered fans in the stands. It was as if vultures had arrived upon a carcass. The press were four and five deep around Bruce Boudreau near the skate’s conclusion, and being at the back of the pack, I could make out only about 40 percent of what the coach said. But in that moment I became convinced that there was a remarkable irony associated with covering hockey on this particular springtime Tuesday.
There was a unique confluence of concern among media covering the Caps and the fanbase following the team yesterday: just what was the mental makeup of the club in this most dire of circumstances, they all were wondering? Dozens of microphones and cameras were pressed before a dozen different Capitals’ voices at midday Tuesday, but the pursuit of this storyline seemed to me a wholly hopeless endeavor. There are 20 or so individuals earning impressive paychecks for their involvement with a winter’s game in our city at this moment, and their collective experience at the end of this April is uniquely isolated. Even the team’s owner and general manager are to no small degrees isolated from the fate soon to befall the Washington Capitals. If they are genuinely nervous or apprehensive or giddy with glee at the challenge of tonight, most assuredly they are not sharing such sentiments with the outer world. Not even with their spouses. That’s the room within hockey’s culture.
I understood why the media were assembled Tuesday in the mass of humanity and equipment it was, but I wondered how many of them realized how pointless their storyline pursuits were on this particular day. I couldn’t help but notice that the Capitals’ Mike Vogel was most often apart from the media scrum enveloping Bruce Boudreau, and instead fixing his gaze on the handful of players remaining on the post-practice ice. He knew.
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Tonight is special most especially for Alexander Ovechkin, our still-new captain. If the Capitals fail tonight a most unwelcomed association will cloak the Gr8 like a wet blanket in a blizzard. It wasn’t that big a deal when his Capitals lost game 7 against the Flyers here two springs back — that game had officiating issues, and that series followed a late March and early April standings surge (the Capitals were literally in a lose-and-you’re-out whirlwind every night they played for weeks) that largely overshadowed the loss to the Flyers. Something special on ice was forming in Washington then.
In the opening round of last postseason it was Sergei Fedorov who delivered game 7 heroics for the red-sweatered against the Rags. And then in the very next round in another game 7 early on Alexander Ovechkin had a clean breakaway against Marc-Andre Fleury, one he missed. Many of us today still wonder if the outcome that night against Pittsburgh might have been different had Ovi put that puck past Fleury.
Alexander Ovechkin doesn’t want the experience that awaits him with North American media were his team and he to fail tonight. He’ll want to return home to Moscow on Thursday and remain there. Bruce Boudreau would have it tough, and the remainder of spring and all summer for George McPhee would be supremely sour, but their experiences would pale in comparison to those of the captain anointed hockey’s Savior in this town.
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More than a few Caps’ fans last December expressed support for Brooks Laich’s candidacy to be the next captain of the Caps once Chris Clark was dealt. I thought about that yesterday moments after he met media after practice, and asked about the pressure associated with a game 7 said, “Fate loves the fearless.”
That’s most definitely the attitude I’d have a warrior-leader take into tonight.