On Hockey: Keys for Capitals in Game 7 against Bruins

April 24, 2012

The Capitals and Bruins have scored 14 goals apiece through the first six games of this first-round playoff series. Each contest has been decided by a goal. Three have gone to overtime. There’s only been one two-goal lead, and it lasted but 2 minutes 54 seconds.

If that form holds true for Game 7, we’re in for another nail-biter likely to be decided by a turnover, an unnecessary penalty or a blown defensive assignment.

“It almost becomes a game of mistakes,” forward Brooks Laich said after Tuesday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, a notably relaxed skate given the stakes Wednesday in Boston. “The team that makes the least is probably going to win.”

Avoiding costly miscues figures to be paramount. But if the Capitals hope to dethrone the defending champions and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third time in four seasons, they’ll probably need these seven things to happen, too:

●Eliminate turnovers. Okay, that’s virtually impossible. But they can cut down on the careless ones, such as the turnovers committed by Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom in Game 6, each of which resulted in a goal against.

“We got too fancy last game,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Got back to a few of our old ways with threading passes through the middle. We were trying to make too many fancy plays.”

Goalie Braden Holtby can’t simply be good; he needs to be great.

The past two games, the 22-year-old rookie is 1-1 with a 3.41 goals against average and .897 save percentage. That won’t be enough to outduel reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who will be starting his fourth Game 7 in two seasons.

“The game is played the same way,” said Holtby, who, through Monday’s games, had faced the second most shots (216). “It’s really not a question of whether I can or can’t do it. The situation is here and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that I give us a chance to win. I believe I can do that.”

Be physical. Make the Bruins defensemen, particularly 35-year-old Zdeno Chara, turn and retrieve pucks and put a pounding on them when possible. Chara, like most of the Boston blue-liners, has played a lot of high-intensity hockey the past 10 months.

Capitals forward Jay Beagle noted this week that a few Bruins defensemen look “banged up.” The early stages Wednesday might be an opportunity to knock the will to win out of them.

Score first. In this series, the team that has struck first has won five times.

The Capitals opened the scoring in Games 2 and 5 on Causeway Street and went home with wins. It takes the raucous black-and-yellow towel-waving crowd out of the game and puts the pressure squarely on the home team.

“When we get that first goal, we feel a little bit more comfortable,” winger Matt Hendricks said. “It gives us a chance to take that big, deep breath and focus in on what we need to do. We don’t need to run and gun and score goals. We need play solid ‘D.’”

Stay out of the penalty box. While Washington’s penalty kill has been superb — the unit has limited to the Bruins to only two power-play goals — the Capitals must not give up any unnecessary opportunities. A 90 percent effectiveness on the kill is unsustainable, especially given Boston’s skill and depth up front.

In Game 5, Dennis Wideman cross-checked Brad Marchand, and Johnny Boychuk put the Bruins ahead 1:18 later. In Game 6, Semin hooked Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference in a race for the puck. Forty-two seconds after that, David Krejci was celebrating Boston’s second goal. It can be argued that neither penalty was of the “good” variety.

“There’s going to be penalties called. But you want them to disciplined ones. If you have to take one, you have to take it,” Hendricks said. “But for the most part, we can’t be having hookings and holdings 200 feet from our goalie, and lazy penalties on the backcheck.”

Convert power-play opportunities. The Capitals have scored on the man advantage in three of the six contests. Two of those games were wins.

Interestingly, Washington has been awarded only 18 power plays, which is two fewer than Boston and tied for the second fewest in the playoffs.

The final point comes from Laich. And, unlike the others, it has nothing to do with X’s and O’s, but it’s every bit as critical.

“You have to be excited to play,” Laich said. “Embrace it and trust your stuff.”

“If you’re a skater, skate,” he added. “If you’re a passer, make plays. If you’re a shooter, shoot the puck. Trust your stuff and bring everything you’ve got.”

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