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Rangers vs Capitals - 2012 Stanley Cup Conference Semifinals

Five reasons the Capitals are heading home

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

So much changed for the Washington Capitals in one month, but then so much remained the same.

The Capitals began the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs as a No. 7 seed facing the defending champs Apr. 12 in Boston. After a month of white-knuckle hockey, the Capitals had dispensed the Bruins and pushed the top-seeded New York Rangers to a Game 7. A win would have been a breakthrough for a franchise that hasn't reached the conference finals since 1998, and for a core group of players that has experienced only playoff failure.

It didn't happen.

For the fourth time in five years, the Capitals lost a Game 7. This was the first away from Verizon Center, and while Washington performed better than a typical No. 7 seed can expect to, it still wasn't enough.

Here are five reasons why the Capitals were left to ponder their future yet again Saturday night after a 2-1 loss to the Rangers instead of plotting strategies to defeat the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals:

Richards comes up big in biggest game as Ranger

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- This is why Brad Richards came to New York. This is why the Rangers wanted Brad Richards.

Brad Richards
Center - NYR
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 11
SOG: 55 | +/-: 1
In the biggest game of the season, the 32-year-old showed why the Rangers signed him to a nine-year, $60 million contract last July. He scored 92 seconds into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Washington Capitals and was on the ice for the final 40 seconds protecting a one-goal lead in the Rangers' 2-1 victory that sent them to the conference final for the first time since 1997.

Richards spoke honestly afterward about how when he signed the big contract last summer, playing on a big stage like Madison Square Garden at this time of the season was his biggest motivation.

Five reasons to have faith as Capitals go into Game 7

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

Maybe the Washington Capitals are better when they're not the favorite.

The Caps were labeled playoff disappointments after failing to get past the second round in each of the last four springs despite having the home-ice advantage. But after a seventh-place finish this season, they've already ousted the defending champion Boston Bruins -- and have a chance to do the same to the top-seeded New York Rangers on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC) -- a victory that would send them to the conference finals for the first time since 1998.

The Caps have shown the kind of resiliency this spring that's been missing in past years. They've rebounded with victories following each of their four overtime losses, and they refused to lose in Game 6 against the Rangers, beating New York 2-1 to push the series to the limit.

But do the Caps have what it takes to win Game 7 on the road? Here are five reasons why their fans should have faith.

Add fatherhood to Holtby's whirlwind ride

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

Braden Holtby
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 7-6-4
GAA: 1.95 | SVP: 0.935
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Tami Holtby has become the most recognized hockey mom of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now she's the most recognized hockey grandma.

Not only has Braden Holtby survived the pressure of being a 22-year-old goaltender with limited NHL experience to lead his Washington Capitals to within one victory of the Eastern Conference Finals, he became a father Thursday.

Holtby's fiancée gave birth to Benjamin Hunter Holtby at a local hospital.

"It was a pretty exciting day," Holtby said after practicing Friday with the Capitals. "It was planned so it would be the least amount of a distraction to our team as possible. It was a great day. Mom and baby are doing great. But now I'm focusing on hockey."

Halpern shakes off rust to play key role for Caps

Ben Raby - NHL.com Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Jeff Halpern admits that being a healthy scratch for 19 straight games for the first time in his NHL career took some adjustment.

"I definitely went through a pretty broad range of emotions and feelings," the Washington Capitals center said Friday. "Ultimately, though, you have to stay professional and whether you're in or out of the lineup or whether you agree or not with your role, you have to stay professional and be able to do the job that's asked of you when the time comes."

For Halpern, his time came Wednesday in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Rangers, when an injury to center Jay Beagle left a void in Dale Hunter's lineup.

Lundqvist ready mentally for another do-or-die game

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

Henrik Lundqvist
Goalie - NYR
RECORD: 7-6-2
GAA: 1.73 | SVP: 0.936
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- At this time of the season, the best part of a day off isn't always giving the body a break from the grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For Henrik Lundqvist, it's about turning off his brain whenever he can.

"I try to not think about the game. I just try to do other stuff," said Lundqvist, who along with the rest of the Rangers had Thursday completely off after losing 2-1 to the Capitals in Game 6 on Wednesday. "Today, I start thinking about tomorrow. I come here and practice and work on your game and maybe this afternoon I'll try to get away from it before I go to bed, then coming to the rink tomorrow, it's all business."

Five reasons to have faith as Rangers go into Game 7

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

The top-seeded New York Rangers had a chance to close out the scrappy seventh-seeded Washington Capitals in Game 6, but they were never able to recover from a slow start and lost 2-1 at Verizon Center.

Nothing has been easy for the Rangers in this postseason, as they had to rally from a 3-2 series deficit in the first round against the Ottawa Senators and will now need to win another Game 7 on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC) in order to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

How are the Rangers going to avoid elimination at Madison Square Garden? Here are five reasons why their fans should have faith:

Rangers and Capitals hope to defy history

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Either the New York Rangers or Washington Capitals will keep their Stanley Cup hopes alive with a win on Saturday night. However, history says neither club should worry about planning a championship parade next month.

The Rangers and Caps will square off in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Madison Square Garden, with the winner advancing to the conference finals against the New Jersey Devils. It's the second time in as many series that both the Rangers and Capitals have gone to the limit -- New York had to go seven games to beat Ottawa in the first round, a game that took place one night after Washington eliminated Boston in seven games.

Saturday's winner may be one step closer to the Cup, but history says they won't get there.

Hard-nosed Hendricks emerging as a team leader

Ben Raby - NHL.com Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When Matt Hendricks received a professional tryout from the Washington Capitals in September 2010, few of his future teammates would have predicted that he would someday become a key cog on a Stanley Cup contender.

"Gosh, my first impression was that this guy doesn't shut up," Brooks Laich recalled Thursday of the Minnesota native who was 29 at the time with 60 career NHL games to his credit.

"The very first game I played with him was in Columbus and he ended up scoring a hat trick," Laich said. "I had never known the guy, we had been in training camp together for two days and before we went on the ice for this exhibition game -- the first exhibition game of the year -- this guy was just non-stop talking and I'm thinking 'I don't know if I can take this.'"

Nearly two years later, Laich and his teammates can't get enough of Hendricks -- "the stereotypical plumber," according to Troy Brouwer -- who has emerged as a team leader both on and off the ice.

His pregame talks have become legendary -- "I was hoping HBO would have shown a little more of him [during the '24/7' series leading up to the 2011 Winter Classic]," Laich said -- and his work ethic on the ice has been easy to follow.

More depth, new ideology bolster Caps down middle

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In each of the past few seasons, the Washington Capitals were considered a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. If there was one reoccurring weakness on the roster, it was the lack of depth at center behind Nicklas Backstrom.

The Capitals have tried many players at the position, searching for a consistent presence as the No. 2 guy. When this postseason began, the Capitals weren't seen as a serious threat to win the Cup, but here they are one win from the Eastern Conference Finals.

While general manager George McPhee might not have found a prototypical guy to be the team's No. 2 center, a new coach and new style of play has limited the need for another significant offensive threat behind Backstrom. The guys behind him fit perfectly into coach Dale Hunter's ideology, and center has gone from a position of weakness to one of strength in Washington.

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