WASHINGTON -- For years, these Washington Capitals have rolled into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, only to have the season come unraveled at a most inopportune time. Whether it was an iffy penalty call, a deflating save, a hot goalie, a frustrating opponent or any combination of those things, the Capitals reached a breaking point and didn't survive.
There have been countless chances for the same thing to occur during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but these "new-look" Capitals keep finding a way to play on.
RANGERS VS. CAPITALS
Caps top Rangers 2-1 to force Game 7
By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer
Braden Holtby was fantastic in bouncing back from an OT loss again as the Capitals beat the Rangers 2-1 on Wednesday to force a decisive Game 7 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. READ MORE ›
"I think it just shows the character that we've got," Matt Hendricks said after Washington staved off elimination with a 2-1 victory against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night at Verizon Center. "Every guy in this room has character. You don't sense a feeling of giving up from anyone at all. We expect to win hockey games. That's what we show up to do. When we do achieve that, it feels good."
In the opening series against the defending champion Boston Bruins, there were chances to break. Washington was down 2-1 in the series and faced Game 4 without its top center because of a suspension. The Capitals squandered a great chance in Game 6 at home in overtime and had to face the Bruins in a winner-take-all Game 7 on the road.
There have been more mental hurdles to clear in this series against the Rangers. The Capitals lost in three overtimes to fall behind 2-1. They lost in overtime to fall down 3-2 when they were just seconds away from winning before yielding an equalizer and then again in the extra session.
Even in Game 6, a contest the Capitals had to have, they found out minutes before the start of the game that checking-line center Jay Beagle would not be able to play because of a lower-body injury.
Still, the Capitals earned a quick 1-0 lead Wednesday night and controlled this contest, frustrating New York's top offensive players for 59 minutes and collecting a 2-1 victory to force another Game 7.
"We've been saying this whole playoff, 'We're resilient,' " Karl Alzner said. "We have that thick skin now. We know when to battle back when we have to and we need to. That was a great start to get that first goal and get the building going."
Added coach Dale Hunter: "There is a lot of character in that room. They sacrificed and played a good game in [New York in Game 5] but came up short, but definitely they battled again and showed the character they have in that dressing room."
Jeff Halpern replaced Beagle in the lineup, and committed the same sin that ultimately cost the Capitals in Game 5. Just as Joel Ward had done in the final minute of Game 5, which led to both the tying goal and the winner early in OT, Halpern took a double-minor for high-sticking and gave the Rangers a four-minute power play.
The situation was a little different -- it was the second period and Washington held a 2-0 lead, but the Rangers were afforded a great chance to get back in the contest. Not only did New York not score, but Washington created a couple of great chances shorthanded and the momentum swing was palpable.
"I think we all believe we can do it in here," John Carlson said. "We know that we got a good team. We've showed character battling to get into the playoffs and then again in the first round. I think everyone has a good feeling in here, whether we are up or down. It is tough. We've been in some tough spots, but at the end of the day, we've done what we have to do to keep ourselves afloat. The same will have to go for Saturday."
Saturday becomes the next chance for the Capitals to fold under the weight of postseason expectations. This core group of Capitals has never been beyond this point. They reached a Game 7 in the second round in 2009, only to be eviscerated by their hated rivals from Pittsburgh at Verizon Center.
There are only a handful of guys remaining on the team from three years ago. General manager George McPhee has tinkered and altered this roster, trying to find the right mix of players to surround his young superstars with for moments just like this one.
For some of the younger guys on the team like Alzner, Carlson and the burgeoning star in net, Braden Hotlby, this will be their first chance at a winner-take-all second round contest. They've all passed so many tests to get this point, but there is one more at hand.
"I think that everyone is willing and their desire is there to do whatever it takes," Carlson said. "I think that's huge. I think everyone thrives off it. We've done a good job."
Added Alzner: "It is awesome. Another Game 7 -- we're pretty fortunate that we get to be playing these games. MSG is a fun place to play. It would just be a great feeling to be able to win in that building and upset a lot of people. It is just enjoying it, just having fun -- that's when we seem to play our best, so that's what we're going to do."