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Winner Take All

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders

This one is for the series.

The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals will play a seventh and deciding game Monday, as their bitter, back-and-forth series comes to an end at 7:30 p.m. at Verizon Center.

“It’s coming down to one game and you just have to leave it all on the line,” John Tavares said. “You want to do everything you can, knowing you don’t have any excuses at the end of the day. We believe in our group that we can go out there and get a win.”

The believability comes from a hard fought win in Game Six, where the Islanders, staring down elimination without half of their regular defensemen, gutted out a 3-1 win.

Everything was on the line for the Islanders, their season, as well as their time at Nassau Coliseum, and they passed the test. Not only do they have to do it again, they’ll have to up the intensity and desperation to match the Capitals, who are facing the same do-or-die scenario.

[Jaro’s] probably going to have to be our best player. He knows what it takes and I’m very confident.Jack Capuano

“The battle level is going to increase,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We have to match the intensity level of the opposition.”

This series has been airtight, with three one-goal games including two overtime affairs. It’s a series that deserves to go seven games, though given the nastiness and physical play, it’ll feel more like a seventh round.

“I don't think either team really likes each other and it’s been a physical series,” Matt Martin said Saturday. “It’s going to get that way when you play every other day, you see the same faces. There’s definitely a pretty big hatred building.”

The physical play of both teams laid the foundation for mutual loathing, but Tom Wilson’s hit on Lubomir Visnovsky in Game Four put things into overdrive. Games Five and Six were nasty affairs filled with scrums, misconducts, and a post-game brawl. Even the fans have gotten in on the action, as dueling chants have gone on between Nassau Coliseum and Verizon Center.

“I’m sure it’s entertaining for the fans to watch,” Martin said. “But we just have to stay disciplined and stay level headed.”

That’s the key for both teams, keeping their composure in the biggest moment. If scoring the game-winning goal is the ultimate high, then being in the penalty box for the game decider would be the ultimate low.

“Stay in the moment, don’t let your emotions get the best of you,” Johnny Boychuk, who is 4-3 in Game Sevens, said. “That’s the main thing. You might take a penalty and you could be going home because of that penalty.”

The Islanders are 3-4 all time in Game Sevens, though they haven’t played one since 2002 and haven’t won one since 1993. They beat the Capitals in 1987 in quadruple overtime in the famed Easter Epic, but this current Islanders squad has limited Game Seven experience.

The homegrown Islanders enter the game with a clean slate. Boychuk is one of only a handful of players on the roster with Game Seven experience. Boychuk hoisted the Stanley Cup after a Game Seven win over the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. Nick Leddy was part of a Game Seven win in 2013 against the Detroit Red Wings, while Jaroslav Halak won a pair of Game Sevens in the 2010 playoffs, upsetting the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two rounds. Halak posted a .963 save percentage combined in those two wins.

Capuano said he was going to lean on Leddy and Boychuk – they each played over 27 minutes in Game Six – but that Jaroslav Halak will be the difference. Halak made 38 saves with the Islanders facing elimination Saturday.

“[Jaro’s] probably going to have to be our best player,” Capuano said. “The teams that go on and the teams that are successful, it starts in the goal. He’s been there before, he knows what it takes and I’m very confident.”

The Capitals are 2-5 in their last seven winner-take-all matches and each of those teams featured Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. Tim Gleason (2-0) is the only Capital with a winning record in Game Seven, but both wins came with the Carolina Hurricanes.

There should be no shortage of enthusiasm for Monday’s game. Beyond the feud with the Capitals and the drive to extend the season, scoring the winning goal in a Game Seven is a dream that goes back to childhood. For someone on either the Islanders or Capitals, that dream will be realized tomorrow.

“I can’t wait for tomorrow,” Nielsen, the longest-tenured Islander, said Sunday. “These are the kind of games you dream about when you’re a kid. Game Seven in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”

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