It’s Game 7… but you already knew that. It will be the only NHL game played this evening, so you can bet that all of the eyes of the hockey world in North America – and a lot of other places – will be trained on what is unfolding in Verizon Center this evening.
And if you’re looking for motivation on the part of the Caps, look no further than that quote machine that is Brooks Laich…
"When (Joffrey) Lupul scored I sat on the bench and it honestly felt like someone had just ripped my heart out. We had been on such a run for two or three months leading up to that. We had won our last seven in a row to get into the playoffs. We had battled back from down 3-1 (to the Flyers) and all of a sudden it just felt like we died. It was the worst feeling and I don't wish it upon anybody. Your season crashes and it's all over, and that's why you fight so hard to avoid it."
There are 20 Capitals and a legion of fans who are, in fact, wishing it on someone – anyone who wears black and Vegas gold. Two of those Caps fans are right here…
Cheerless? Fearless? What are the keys here?
"Shots, for one. The Penguins enjoy an 11.2 advantage in shots per game in this series (37.7 to 26.5). The advantage is a little narrower in Verizon Center – 8 shots a game in the three games there (38-30). The Caps getting 30-plus shots could be telling, because Marc-Andre Fleury has been very ordinary in this series. Semyon Varlamov has the higher GAA (3.33 to 2.17) but Fleury’s save percentage has been much worse -- .874 to .907."
Cheerless, you have a response?
"If the Caps haven’t outshot the Penguins in any game in this series, what makes y’all think they’re gonna do it now? But here’s the thing… I did some arithmetic on this…"
Here we go…
“Yeah, I passed arithmetic in grade school…”
“It took you four tries…”
“Well, whatever…if the Caps can keep the shot differential under ten in the Penguins favor, Fleury’s save percentage works against him. For example, at their current save percentages, if Varlamov faces 40 shots and Fleury faces 30, each team would end up with four goals.”
Hockey games don’t generally play out that way, cuz…
“Yeah, well, let’s put it another way… if the Penguins are lighting the Caps up for 40-45 shots, ya gotta wonder if the kid, who has already faced 226 shots in six games, has enough in the tank to pull this one out.”
“That’s why this one is probably going to be decided at the other end of the ice. If the Caps can get a few more of those 54 chances they had in Game 6 on net (they had only 24 shots on goal, along with 19 attempts blocked and 11 misses) in Game 7, then the cracks in Fleury’s game might look a little wider.”
Good point, Fearless. But what about the skaters? Crosby and Ovechkin have largely cancelled one another out in this one…
“Yes, cousin, they have, but there is something of an ominous number you didn’t include there. Crosby has 29 shots on goal, while Ovechkin has 38. But 21 of Ovechkin’s shots came in Games 1 and 2. He’s had 17 in the last four. That’s a lot for your normal NHL player (over 82 games, it would have been the fourth highest total in the league this year). But it is a reflection of the job the Penguins – and Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi in particular – have done in limiting Ovechkin’s chances.”
So, if the Caps can get more favorable matchups – spring Ovechkin loose against other defensemen – it could play in the Caps’ favor?
“You’d think so…”
Is Evgeni Malkin the “X” factor in this one?
“Shoot, cuz… the only thing I know about ‘X’ is that it’s how I sign my name. But that Malkin fella is 2-6-8, -2 so far in the series. But he’s only 1-2-3, +2 in the three Penguin wins. If yer lookin’ for an ‘X’ factor, maybe you oughtta be lookin’ at that Fedotenko guy. He has a goal in each of the three wins the Penguins have in this series.”
“And David Steckel has one in each of the Capitals’ wins in this series.”
So, like we’ve been saying, it’s the support guys who might be the ones telling the tale, despite all the hype on the big guys.
“Hockey’s a team game, cuz…”
Right you are, Cheerless. OK, guys, let’s get to the bottom line here. Who wins?
“The Caps have been resilient in the face of elimination, they’ve had a successful season at home. And then there’s the karma of that Hershey win last night to eliminate the Baby Pens…
...so you know who we like.”
“I still don’t know who this Karma lady is, but I like the Caps… why? Cuz if they win, you’ll keep invitin’ me here and giving me free beers.”
Well, there it is, but if the fans need some inspiration to get them going tonight, The General gets the final word one more time…
Caps 4 – Penguins 3