"It's an exciting time for us, for fans, for everybody," says Ovechkin. "Who wins the game moves forward, and who's not goes home. So it's nice that we have home [ice] advantage. The fans are going to be loud, and the atmosphere is going to be pretty crazy."
Only four of the previous 11 have turned out to Washington's satisfaction, despite seven of those games being played in the District. In winning the Stanley Cup last spring, the Caps won the only Game 7 they encountered along the way, taking out the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 4-0 win the Eastern Conference final, the game that punched their ticket to a Cup Final date with the Vegas Golden Knights.
In Wednesday's Game 7 against the Hurricanes, the Caps find themselves on the opposite side of the position they themselves were in seven years and one day ago, when they faced the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on the road in Game 7 of one of the most taut and tense playoff series ever played. All seven games were decided by a single goal, and four of the seven went into overtime, with the two teams splitting those four games.
Joel Ward supplied the game-winner in overtime for the Caps, stunning the Boston faithful and propelling Washington into a second-round date with a New York team, the Rangers. The Canes will be seeking to duplicate the Caps' achievement of seven years ago, hoping to take on the Barry Trotz-coached New York Islanders in the second round.
"It's a similar situation, obviously," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who cut his Stanley Cup playoff teeth in that series. "I think a lot of us knew it was going to be a hard series; they've played extremely well. Now it's down to one game, and it's a matter of who is going to perform better and who is going to keep their composure longer. We believe we have the abilities to come out on top."
Video: Locker Room | April 24
"Everybody knows the magnitude of this moment," says Carolina forward Justin Williams, a veteran of several prior Game 7s who has delivered many noteworthy performances under that spotlight. "No one is going to remember what happened in Game 1 through Game 6. They're going to remember tonight, and we know that."
In 23 career elimination games in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Ovechkin has 11 goals and 21 points and Backstrom has six goals and 19 points.
"Something we learned from last year is you've got to go out and get it," says Backstrom. "You can't be passive about it. You've got to come out aggressive and make sure that you want it more than the other team. That's one of the things we've been talking about, so we've just got to go out and do it."
Even Flow - From the first period of Game 1, Washington's power play has made a mark on this series. The Caps' 28.6 percent success rate with the extra man is third best in the playoffs. At home, the Caps have been even more torrid, scoring on five of 12 opportunities for a 41.7 percent efficiency rate, second best in the league.
But a Game 7 typically doesn't produce as many extra-man opportunities as games earlier in a playoff series, so the Caps certainly can't count on their power play to get them through this one. In their 11 previous Game 7 experiences during the Ovechkin/Backstrom era, the Caps have had only 20 power play chances while facing 29 penalty-killing situations.
If the Caps are going to advance to the second round, they'll likely need to play a strong game at five-on-five, and they'll need to eke out some scoring at even strength. Carolina owns a 13-9 advantage in five-on-five scoring in the series, and even in Washington's lopsided 6-0 Game 5 victory, only two of its goals were scored at evens.
"I think that it's kind of a good indicator of how we're playing," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, referring to five-on-five play. When we've been at home we've been a lot better at five-on-five - I think - than them, and vice versa on the road. So it's certainly been one of our strengths, and something we've relied upon. And we're going to need it tonight."
"We haven't played - I don't think - as well of a team game [in Washington], but our special teams game has been no good up here, for whatever reason," says Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour, asked about his team's struggles in D.C. "We know that's their ace in the hole, so we've got to not take penalties, number one. And then when we do take them, we've got to kill them. If we get a power play, we've got to make it count. That's been not great, either. So if we can do one of those two things, then that sets up better for us."
Video: Todd Reirden | April 24
Seconds Of Pleasure - During the 2018-19 regular season, the Caps were a strong second-period team. Their total of 103 goals scored in the middle frame was second only to Pittsburgh (104) and their plus-20 goal differential in the second was tied for third best in the league.
In the six games in this series, Washington has played its best hockey in the first period, only to fade somewhat over the final 40 minutes. The Caps frequently used the second period and the long change as a weapon during the regular season, but they've been outscored 5-3 in the middle frame of this series while being outshot 68-49.
Even in Saturday's lopsided 6-0 win over Carolina in Game 5, the Caps had to kill off three Hurricanes power plays in a span of 10 minutes before they could get their offense rolling. They scored two of their three second-period goals in the series late in the middle frame of Game 5.
"A lot of times in second periods - and even in the second period the other night in Game 5 - we were able to catch them in a bad change," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "And quick transition offense has been a key to our success really all year, especially in the second periods where we can use some strategy that way, especially at home when you're getting the match-ups that you want to have, and they're working to get theirs. So occasionally you can catch them out of synch in terms of the things they want to do.
"But for us, it was that first pass execution through the neutral zone that wasn't as quick and as sharp as we needed it to be [in Game 6] and then when we did get it into our forwards' hands a few times, it didn't get deep. So we weren't able to establish really any in-zone time or any forecheck where we were able to impose our will physically, like we had done in Game 5."
Washington obviously wants to continue its pattern of strong starts - the Caps have outscored the Canes 8-4 in the first period in this series - but it's imperative that they keep their foot on the gas the rest of the way, too. Carolina has outscored Washington 13-9 after the end of the first in the six games to date.
"You need a 60-minute effort tonight," says Backstrom. "It's going to be a battle out there. There are two good teams out there, and a lot of credit to Carolina - they're playing aggressive, and they're a good team. We've got to make sure that we play tight and are good defensively. That's going to be the key tonight, I think."
"I think the main thing is that they don't waver in the way they play through the whole game. And I think we've made strides forward to realize that there are not too many waves in games against them. They are going to get the puck in and forecheck. You know what you're going to get, and it's a matter of that mental focus, mental toughness throughout the whole game to execute every play for your teammates. We know that, and we expect that we're going to have our best game that way."
Video: Rinkside Update | Nicklas Backstrom
Many Happy Returns - Carolina has gotten a lift from getting defenseman Calvin de Haan back from injury in Game 4, and it got a lift from getting Jordan Martinook back in the lineup in Game 6.
We certainly won't know for sure until pre-game warm-ups because the Hurricanes haven't been conducting morning skates, and Brind'Amour has been typically vague on all matters of player ailments throughout this series. But there is a possibility that Carolina will get Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland back in its lineup tonight. Both went down with injuries in Game 3 and have not played since.
"Ferland probably will not play," says Brind'Amour on Wednesday morning. "That I can tell you."
Martinook is likely going to be a game-time decision, according to Brind'Amour, and as for Svechnikov, Brind'Amour claims he doesn't even know whether the teenage phenom has cleared the NHL's concussion protocol.
Asked what his message to his charges would be in advance of Wednesday's winner-take-all contest, Brind'Amour replied thusly:
"It's not going to be any different than our message was last game. We want to lay it on the line. We want to make sure that however it goes, you walk out of that rink feeling like you did all you could. That's all you can ask of these guys. If we do that, I feel pretty confident in the way we play that we will have a good result. You certainly don't want to leave having any regrets."
"It doesn't matter what happened in the first six games," says Williams. "It doesn't matter if we were up 3-0 or down 3-0 [in the series]. It's 3-3 right now. We haven't won a game here this year. We know that, so we feel we're due."
In The Nets - Holtby is making in his eighth Game 7 appearance for Washington tonight, the first of which was a 2-1 win over the Bruins in Game 7 of the Caps' first-round series in 2012. He owns a 3-4 record in Game 7 starts, with one of the losses coming in overtime against the Rangers.
Holtby has permitted two or fewer goals against in six of his previous Game 7 starts, and he owns a 1.81 GAA and a .934 save pct. in those seven Game 7 outings. In this series, Holtby has a 2.68 GAA and a .916 save pct.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | April 24
Petr Mrazek is making his second career Game 7 appearance. While with Detroit, he faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in a deciding seventh game on the road in 2015. Mrazek played well in that game, facing only 16 shots and stopping 15 of them. But it wasn't enough to avoid the loss; the Bolts' Braydon Coburn scored early in the third period and the Lightning tacked on a late empty-netter to win 2-0. Tampa Bay was down 3-2 in that opening round series to the Wings, but used that series win as a springboard to the Cup Final, where it fell to Chicago.
Mrazek owns a 2.67 GAA and an .895 save pct. in this series. At home, he has a 1.00 GAA and a .959 save pct. in this series. In the three games played in Washington, Mrazek has a 4.37 GAA and an .833 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Hurricanes to look when they meet on Wednesday in Washington for a deciding Game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
62-Hagelin, 92-Kuznetsov, 13-Vrana
65-Burakovsky, 20-Eller, 10-Connolly
18-Stephenson, 26-Dowd, 25-Smith-Pelly
6-Kempny (lower body)
77-Oshie (broken clavicle)
21-Niederreiter, 20-Aho, 86-Teravainen
23-McGinn, 11-Staal, 14-Williams
13-Foegele, 71-Wallmark, 48-Martinook
8-Maenalanen 42-McKegg, 36-Brown
44-de Haan, 57-van Riemsdyk
79-Ferland (upper body)