Seven Points to Game 7 Success

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

Game 7 is here. Again. For the fifth time in five playoff seasons, the Capitals are playing a winner-take-all Game 7, and they’re playing against a Boston Bruins team that played in – and won – three Game 7s last spring en route to a Stanley Cup championship. “It’s all about who wants it a little more,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “You throw the systems out the window, throw everything out the window. It’s going to be who wants it more. That’s what Game 7s are.” Here’s a seven-point checklist for success in Game 7, listed in no particular order: 1. Your best players have to be your best players – They don’t have to score goals, but they need to be engaged. Lighting the lamp is not the only way to make an impact on a game. Create energy, backcheck and forecheck diligently and lead by example. If your best players are playing at their peaks, they can draw defensive attention and create space for teammates on the ice. “Your top guys have got to lead the way,” says caps center Brooks Laich. “Especially when the pressure is on, they’ve got to be the top guys. But if you watch hockey enough, usually the top guys in a lot of games will end up canceling each other out because their top guys are going to be at their best, too. You really need your depth, too, to come through. I don’t think any one particular person is going to win it. It’s been a very tight series, so we’re going to need everybody to play at the top of their game.” “That goes without saying that they’ve got to be phenomenal,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble. “Just do what you’re supposed to do for this team and do it the best you can on that night. Do it better than you’ve done it. Our scorers will be scorers, our checkers are going to check, our goalie is going to make saves and our D will play great defense. You can’t expect anything more out of your teammates.” 2. Play a simple, responsible defensive game – This starts with goaltending, but involves the entire team. Your goaltender needs to make the saves that should be made. No soft goals. He’s got to give his team a chance to win, keep it close enough so that the offense gets a chance to get going. The rest of the team needs to be responsible with the puck. Make simple plays, minimize risk and manage the puck with great care. Drop back to the middle and tighten up around the net in the defensive zone. Don’t get caught deep in the attack zone and make sure there are no odd-man rushes against. “That’s the reason why we were playing as well as we were,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “We were keeping it simple. Definitely the last game you noticed turnovers, going through the middle of the ice and [being] soft up the walls [hurt us]. We’ve been good on the draws, we’ve been good getting out of our zone, and we’ve got to have confidence that if we don’t have a play we’ve got to just chip it up the wall and keep going. Simple hockey. “If you overcomplicate things like this team has done in the past, you lose games or you get a lot of goals scored against you. It’s really cut and dried. We watched the video. Everybody realizes what happened last game and how we played. We were right in there, but we didn’t play a very good game. We just have to know that if we keep it simple we’re going to have a better chance.” “The situation is here,” says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that I give us a chance to win.” 3. Win the special teams battle – All six previous games have been decided by a single goal. Winning the special teams battle is huge. The Caps scored a power play goal in Game 4 and won. Both teams scored a power play goal in Game 5, and the Caps won. Boston scored an extra-man tally in Game 6 and won. Chances are good that a special teams goal could mean the difference in this one. “They’re very important,” says Laich of the importance of special teams in Game 7. “Especially in a tight series where that goal can be the difference. We want to be physical, but we don’t want to take penalties. And then the flipside of that is we want to be attacking their net, moving our legs and making them try and haul us down. If you can get those goals – I don’t know what the statistic is throughout the course of the season, but I imagine it’s around 75 percent – if you win the special teams battle, you’re probably going to win. It will be a big factor tonight.” “Maybe one or two [power play chances] is all we’ll get. The refs are probably going to leave it in the players’ hands, and the guys are going to be careful with their sticks and elbows and that sort of stuff. If you get a [power play] chance, you have to get good looks and good chances.” 4. Have a strong start – Every team always wants to come out strong, to dictate the pace and flow and to stamp the game with its own unique imprimatur. Doing so doesn’t guarantee a win, but it can help you get an early leg up. For a team playing Game 7 on the road, that could be huge. The team that has scored first has won five of the previous six games in this series. “It’s been important for us all season, I think,” says Hendricks. “Even in the regular season. We look at that first five minutes as very important hockey. We want to take control, we want to dominate. We want to have the puck on our stick most of the time, try to get their crowd out of it early and establish the game we want to play with them.” 5. Be disciplined – Don’t take lazy or stupid penalties. If your team falls behind, keep your head and keep your emotions in check. Taking penalties when your down a goal or two late is a sure short-circuit to any comeback bid. If you’re a goalie who gives up a bad goal, don’t get down on yourself. “Special teams this time of year is huge,” says Hendricks. “You can eliminate their opportunities by staying out of the box as much as possible. Obviously there are going to be penalties called. But you want them to be disciplined ones. If you have to take one at a certain point in the game, you have to take it. That’s the way it is. But for the most part, we can’t be having hookings and holdings and stuff 200 feet from our goalie, lazy penalties on the backcheck and things like that. Penalties happen but we need to try to stay out of the box. They’ve got a good power play.” “There are a lot of ups and downs,” says Holtby. “To try to keep them all level is the hard part. You always hear that; you hear stories of Stanley Cup winners and all that and how important it is to keep an even keel. But once you experience it, you really realize how important it is.” 6. Have an unsung hero step forward – Everyone has to raise their level of play. There is no reason to leave anything in the tank. A third- or fourth-liner could score a huge goal, block a shot on the PK, make a big hit, win a key face-off. A defenseman could keep a puck out of his net with his goalie prone. It’s not just the stars who are the heroes when the game is over and the stories are written. “When you look back, legends are made out of these games,” says Chimera, who scored a double-overtime game winner last spring in the playoffs against the New York Rangers. “I was telling the guys, you can be a hero for one moment and it can be a great feeling for you.” “Obviously, it’s do or die,” says Caps center Jay Beagle. “So it’s real important to go out have the best game of the year. It’s the biggest game of the year, so you’ve got to go out and have the best game that you can play. There’s nothing to save it for. It’s Game 7. It’s do or die. We’re going to go out there and give it everything we have and as for our line, we’ve got to shut down their top guys and also try to chip in a goal.” 7. Lose with your best players on the ice – This one is mainly for the coaching staff. If you’re going to go down, if your season is going to come to an end, make sure it happens with your best players shouldering the load. Don’t under-utilize your stars and horses. Don’t overplay your foot soldiers. Don’t get caught up in hard line matching to the point where your best players don’t have sufficient opportunity to win the game for you. The team that does the best job of executing these seven points will likely be the one that wins Game 7 tonight. One last bit, from Laich. Lean into the game. This might be the hockey equivalent of “Be the ball, Danny.” “You have to lean into the games,” says Laich. “You can’t be tentative. You can’t be fearful of anything. You’ve got to lean into the game. Be excited to play; embrace it. And trust your stuff. If you’re a skater, skate. If you’re a passer, make the plays. If you’re a shooter, shoot the puck. Trust your stuff and bring everything you’ve got.”

next up:

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It has been less than a month since the Washington Capitals suffered what seemed to most a severely devastating 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center. With that humbling setback on March 27, the Caps toppled out of the top eight in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings. Even worse, they

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