Game 7. Winner moves on, loser goes home.
Simply put, that's what is on the line tonight (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) at venerable Madison Square Garden, when the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers face off to determine the survivor of what his been a hard-fought, intense Eastern Conference quarter-final series.
But while there is inherent, season-ending pressure that goes along with all of that, Senators head coach Paul MacLean doesn't plan any special pre-game oratory to fire up the troops.
"I don't think we're going to try to make it any bigger than it is," MacLean said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "It's just another day, it's the next game and we're just going to get ready for it like we always do."
While several Ottawa players went through this scenario at the American Hockey League level with the Binghamton Senators, the Stanley Cup playoffs are an entirely different animal. And blueliner Erik Karlsson thinks such a lack of experience in this situation on this stage could be beneficial in the end. Only four current Senators — captain Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips — were with the team the last time it played in a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, back in 2004.
"That might be a good thing for us," he said of the Senators' relative inexperience in this scenario. "We have a lot of young guys who probably haven't been in this situation before and, hopefully, we can just go out and play our game and not really overthink it too much ... Sometimes it's good to not realize how big and important this game really is and just relax."
But in almost the same breath, Karlsson says "there's two teams out there (tonight) that are going to do everything in their power to not go play golf next week."
While the Rangers entered the series as prohibitive favourites as the East's No. 1 seed — and, some would suggest, carry the heaviest burden of pressure — their opponent tonight is anything but satisfied with what they've accomplished to date in what had been deemed, at its outset, a rebuilding season.
"We have an opportunity to advance and if you don't, the season's done," said Alfredsson. "It's exciting to be in this position. I think we've worked really hard to get here. We just want to make sure we make the most of it and, hopefully, come out with a win."
Four of the six games in the series have been decided by one goal — two of them in overtime — with each team notching 12 goals in total. Combine that with their success this season at MSG, where the Senators are 4-1-0, and there is no shortage of belief in the Ottawa locker room.
"That's why we're here," said Spezza. "If you don't believe you can get to this point and you don't believe you can win, you're not going to win. We thought from Day 1 in training camp that we could make the playoffs and we could have success. Going into this series, we felt we could win the series. If you don't believe inside your room, you're not going to have any success.
"Internally, we believed if we did things right, we could get here, and now we have a great opportunity in front of us."
Around the boards
For the second straight day, centre Zenon Konopka and defenceman Matt Carkner didn't skate with their teammates, but MacLean said both are "available tonight for sure." Also on the trip are forwards Jakob Silfverberg and Mark Stone, who made their NHL debuts earlier in the series, and defenceman Mark Borowiecki, who has yet to see any Stanley Cup playoff action. "At this point, we're keeping all our lineup options open," said MacLean. "We're looking to ice our best team and who we feel will give us the best chance to win the game." ... Also playing their Game 7 tonight are the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers, who face off in Sunrise, Fla., at 8:30 p.m. If the Senators and Panthers win, they'll meet in the second round. However, if Ottawa and New Jersey emerge victorious, Ottawa gets the Philadelphia Flyers in the conference semis.