One Game Decides Allby Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins
It's all come down to one game.
An entire season will be determined by 60 minutes (or more) on Wednesday night in Game 7 of the Second Round matchup between the Penguins and Capitals at Verizon Center.
"When you play Game 7 it's always 50-50," center Evgeni Malkin said. "No one is the favorite. We know we have a good team, a good goalie. If we play how we can, 100 percent, we can win. We won three games before. It's just one more game."
The Pens and Caps are aware of what's at stake. Use whatever cliché you want - no tomorrow, do-or-die, winner-takes-all - they're all applicable. One game will determine the outcome for an entire season.
Both teams have been through this before.
"I think experience helps," captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think a lot of guys on both sides have been in this situation. It comes down to one game and finding a way to execute when it means most."
The Pens certainly did not want to be in this position. They had a 3-1 lead on the Caps in the series and two opportunities to finish the job. However, the Caps escaped to force a Game 7 following a 5-2 victory in Game Six in Pittsburgh on Monday.
"If (the Caps) think they won an easy game (Monday) and because of that they'll win Game Seven, I say no," Malkin said. "We have a great team. I believe in my team, I believe in my teammates. We've had great experience in Game Sevens before. We'll play the same."
Those losses, including a very disappointing performance in Game 6, are now over. And the Pens have to move on and refocus for Game Seven.
"Whether it's an overtime loss, or the way we lost (Monday), I think you have to focus on Game 7," Crosby said. "We have to be better. You have to forget about it, regardless of what happened."
There is nothing like a Game 7 - the anxiety, the intensity, the joy, the pain, the sublime, the euphoric. Every play takes on so much more importance, every shift, every hit, every shot, every save. Any little play could be the difference between winning and losing, between advancement and extinction.
The Pens have put forth a gutsy effort. They're missing their No. 1 goaltender and No. 1 defenseman in Matt Murray and Kris Letang. Compound that with the loss of Trevor Daley on the blue line and facing the NHL's regular-season champions, and it would be easy to count Pittsburgh out.
But if you've watched the Pens over the past two seasons, then you'll know to never count them out. Last year, Pittsburgh bested this same Washington team, which had also won the President's Trophy, in six games. And the Pens overcame a 3-2 hole to win, in a dramatic Game 7, against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final.
This is the same Pens that were out of a playoff spot last December, but ended the season hoisting the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
And in spite of all the injuries and adversity the Pens have faced on the current campaign, which includes 286 man-games lost, they are just one win away from returning the Eastern Conference Final.
They just need one more win. Or else it's all over.
Everything is on the line: the entire season, nine months of tireless, all-out effort, the grueling hours in the gym, the sweat and exhaustion from practices, 82 regular-season games, sprains, pulls, broken bones, lonely hours of rehabbing injuries, winning streaks, losing streaks, anger, excitement, despair, triumph and, most importantly, the dream of winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
Everything comes down to one game.
"We still have one chance. Just one win," Malkin said. "We know we're playing against a good team. We're in the same situation. One game left in Washington. We need to support each other, forget this game and be ready for next game."