BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins have been in a lot of Game 7s lately, winning three en route to claiming the Stanley Cup in 2011 while getting knocked out of the playoffs in a Game 7 in both 2009 and 2010.
Their opponent Wednesday night at TD Garden, the Washington Capitals, has plenty of experience in these win-or-go-home contests as well. This will be Washington's fifth Game 7 in the past five years, though it will be the first away from the Verizon Center.
Can the Bruins continue their Stanley Cup defense? Will the Capitals thrive as the in the underdog role? Here are three keys to victory for both teams:
1) GET DIRTY: The theme in this series has been simple -- when Boston's forwards are able to get to the net, the Bruins have had success in solving 22-year-old rookie goaltender Braden Holtby. The Bruins have to get players to the net, and then they need to capitalize on rebound chances and deflections once they get there. Staying on the perimeter and relying on shots from a distance will only allow Holtby to settle into this contest.
2) THE NEED FOR SPEED: Tyler Seguin's dashes through the Washington defense in Game 6 exposed a flaw the Bruins have not taken advantage of nearly enough -- there are guys on the Capitals' defense corps who lack foot speed. Seguin caught Mike Green off guard, but Dennis Wideman, Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Schultz can all be had with a well-timed burst. Krejci slipped by Hamrlik for a goal in Game 6, and Seguin torched Wideman for the overtime winner. The Bruins need to get the puck moving forward in open ice, and attack vulnerable defenders in one-on-one situations.
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3) FEED THE BEAST: TD Garden should be rocking when the puck drops for Game 7. This is the first Game 7 in a hostile environment for the Capitals, and the Bruins need a fast, physical start to take advantage of that. Washington will probably look to keep things safe in the early going to help the young players get acquainted and take some verve out of the crowd, so Boston's obvious move to counter that will be to push the tempo of the game and amp up the physical play.
1) TIGHTEN UP: The Capitals actually controlled play for large swaths of Game 6, but their commitment to defensive structure also waned in the process. That's part of why Seguin and Krejci were afforded so much space to operate. The Capitals also began to commit careless turnovers that weren't there earlier in the series. Washington has proven they can frustrate the Bruins with their defense and goaltending-first philosophy, and the Capitals need more of that in Game 7. The Capitals have the talent to run-and-gun with the Bruins, but they don't have the discipline to make smart plays with the puck and retreat when the game opens up.
2) STAY LOOSE: While the Capitals need to tighten up their defensive structure, they need to play with confidence and not let the stage get to them. This group of Washington players has been through four Game 7s on home ice where they were expected to win -- and they didn't play well in any of them. Sure, there is one 2-1 victory against an inferior New York Rangers squad on the resume, but that was one of the worst games the Capitals played in that series and they needed a sudden strike from Sergei Fedorov to bail them out. Now the Capitals are not expected to win this game, and they need to use that and not play like a group that is scared to let 18,000-plus fans down.
3) SECOND HELPINGS: Alex Ovechkin did play more than 22 minutes in Game 6, but he saw less than 18 minutes of ice time in the previous two contests. Given there may not be a tomorrow for the 2011-12 Washington Capitals season, expect to see a lot of Ovechkin in this contest. Boston coach Claude Julien will do what he can to force Ovechkin to play against Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, but Washington coach Dale Hunter should be planning to double-shift Ovechkin to get him some time away from the top Boston duo. Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have played very little together in this series, but the Caps have had success when they do -- if Washington needs a goal, expect to see the team's top two players on the ice together.