The Post Sports Live panel debates whether or not Alex Ovechkin made a guarantee that the Capitals will win Game 7 against the New York Rangers. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Tradition is tradition, regardless of past results, so defenseman Karl Alzner rolled his shin-guard tape into a ball and prepared to shoot. Somewhere behind the cluster of reporters talking to a teammate, next to the laundry hamper for sweaters and the table for skate guards, was a blue trash can. Alzner had missed the day before the Washington Capitals lost Game 5 to the New York Rangers, then missed again before they lost Game 6. With no sightline, Alzner tossed the tape ball over the reporters and into the can. His eyes widened and he smiled.

“Wow,” Alzner hollered, drawing out the vowel with excitement. “That’s a good sign.”

Not that the Capitals sought omens entering Wednesday night’s winner-take-all meeting at Madison Square Garden, their third Game 7 against the Rangers in four seasons, and not that such omens would’ve come from used adhesive anyway. According to Alzner, more powerful sources of inspiration percolated around the dressing room.

Such as these questions: Can the Caps advance beyond the second round for the first time since 1998? Can they end their streak of nine straight series lost after a two-game lead disappeared?

And there is something else, Alzner said, this time looking around the room for teammates, not trash cans. Losing meant summer and summer meant scattering. It meant saying goodbye to a team many have called the tightest, closest-knit they’ve ever experienced.

Post Sports Live debates the Capitals' ceiling in the NHL playoffs coming off of a Game 7 win over the New York Islanders. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

“The ultimate motivation for any team is a Stanley Cup, and then secondary to that is how much you enjoy being around the guys, and you don’t want it to end,” Alzner said. “As fun as summer can be at times, it’s way more fun being around the guys, going on the road, having the practices and chirping [at] each other. Secondary to winning a Cup, that’s the major motivation for us. I think we all feel the same way.”

For all the shadows of history cast over the Capitals during these playoffs, after perhaps their final practice together this season, the possibility of breaking apart felt even more terrifying.

“The intangibles are your team,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “And intangibles are the trust . . . to keep moving on and do something together. Is it a motivating factor? Absolutely it is. That group is tight-knit. That’s why I think they’ve been a special group this season.”

Their progress under Trotz has been well-documented, on individual levels (another 50-goal season from Alex Ovechkin, a historic year from Braden Holtby) and team-wide ones (improved penalty kill, tighter defensive structure, reduced volume of shots against). But before the postseason began, when the break allowed time to reflect and the Capitals fielded questions about what they had accomplished during the regular season, everyone mentioned how well they had gelled.

“This team, it’s a great group to be a part of,” forward Jay Beagle said Tuesday. “We’ve had a lot of fun and gone through a lot of things together this year. This is the tightest group I’ve been a part of in the NHL for sure. It’s just extra motivation. There’s a lot of motivation, a lot of things. But that’s just one thing. You don’t want to let your teammates down, the guy next to you, and you don’t want all this to end.”

Eventually, the Capitals will embrace summer. But not since a Stanley Cup finals run in 1998 has this franchise played beyond May 13, and Wednesday will mark Washington’s third time in seven seasons playing in a Game 7 on that date. On May 13, 2013, the Rangers bludgeoned the Capitals, 5-0, the last time Holtby allowed four goals in the postseason before Sunday’s Game 6. And on May 13, 2009, Washington fell to Pittsburgh, 6-2.

Those facts are irrelevant, Alzner insisted, because “we know who we are and we know what we can do, and we’re a completely different bunch of guys, in a completely different scenario.” He caught himself, his voice trailing off. “Well, maybe the same scenario.” After all, they had lost a two-game lead in 2010 to the Montreal Canadiens, and lost in two recent Game 7s to the Rangers. But they had also won last round’s winner-take-all at home against the New York Islanders, delivering their most suffocating performance of the year with their time together at stake.

So they were here again, another do-or-die match to decide their season, and beyond that whether they will reconvene in Arlington for practice or for exit meetings. Summer isn’t going anywhere. A win would vault them into the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in franchise history. It would end all that Game 7 torment. It would ensure they were still alive on May 14.

“We all look forward to summer,” Alzner said. “It’s our time to relax and see family and all that. I think when you can feel how close you are and we’re still a game and two rounds away from even being there, it just feels a lot closer, I guess. That’s something that’s important. I think you have that feeling, a little extra drive. Talking to [forward Troy Brouwer] about it, he said the further you get the more real it seems and the more serious it seems. I think we’re starting to feel that.”