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Five reasons to have faith as Capitals go into Game 7

by Corey Masisak

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:

Braden Holtby
Braden Holtby
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 7-6-4
GAA: 1.95 | SVP: 0.935
1. They've been the better team since Game 3 -- This series would be over if not for an accidental high-sticking penalty by Joel Ward at the end of Game 5. Washington has outplayed New York for long stretches in the past three games, and Game 6 was the most lopsided of the series for either team. Only Henrik Lundqvist and a handful of missed wide-open chances kept it from being an inflated score.

2. Depth matters in a long series -- Both teams are playing for the 14th time this postseason, but only one of them basically parks one or two defenseman and the fourth line on the bench in tight games. The Rangers' top players have played huge minutes in this series, which includes a triple-overtime contest in Game 3. That Washington has been better since that game is probably not a coincidence.

3. The slipper fits for Washington -- The Capitals have come up small in this situation on several occasions as the favorite in a series, but being the underdog has made it easier for them to cope with the pressure of the postseason. Just as they did in Boston for Game 7 of the opening round, the Capitals will hang around and allow an anxious home crowd to actually become a detriment to the Rangers.

4. Things might actually get easier for Holtby -- Braden Holtby is 22 years old and has handled the pressure of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with aplomb. He's also had a pregnant fiancée who recently finished a semester of college and then moved across the continent to give birth to their child -- a son who was born on Thursday. Sounds like someone might actually have a lot less stress to deal with now that he's a father and can just focus on hockey for the weekend.

5. Everyone else is doing it ... -- Alex Ovechkin has seen one of his biggest friendly rivals win the Stanley Cup when Evgeni Malkin did so in 2009. Now one of his other friendly rivals, Ilya Kovalchuk, has reached the conference finals for the first time. Ovi's teams have been on the precipice of greatness before without getting there. Few players relish the big stage as much as he does, and winning a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden would be one of the greatest accomplishments of his career. Maybe it is his time to be the hero in a winner-take-all playoff game.

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