For much of the Washington Capitals’ first-round playoff series — and all of Game 6 — the Boston Bruins frustrated Alex Ovechkin. They hung on him like love-struck club bunnies. They hit him like the boyfriends of love-struck club bunnies. They diminished his presence until he was the tiniest Russian in the nesting doll.
You knew it had to end eventually, that Ovechkin would take charge of a game, or a period, or even a moment, and save the Caps. And for just a little while Saturday night, it seemed his time had come. With the Caps trailing 3-2 and less than five minutes remaining in regulation, Ovechkin tied the game and sent the Verizon Center faithful into a frenzy.
“You’re on top of the world when something like that happens,” Karl Alzner said.
But eight is not the number everyone’s talking about. After Tyler Seguin’s goal in overtime gave the Bruins a 4-3 victory, the number on everyone’s lips is seven. As in Game 7 Wednesday night in Boston. As in, the No. 7 seed has one more shot to play David to the defending Stanley Cup champions’ Goliath. As in, here we go again.
“Game 7s are exciting games because it’s do or die for both teams and they’re awesome to play in,” said Coach Dale Hunter, who clearly hasn’t lived in Washington the past few years.
Seven is rarely a lucky playoff number for the Caps, although they did beat the Rangers in seven games three years ago in a first-round series.
More often for the Caps, seven is more like “Seven,” when Brad Pitt finds Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box. Seven is a bad day. Two years ago, the top-seeded Caps were knocked out by the Canadiens in seven games. Three seasons ago, after beating the Rangers, the Caps lost to the Penguins in seven games. In 2008, they lost to the Flyers in seven games. You get the idea.
Don’t open the box.
The Caps-Bruins series has had a kind of head-in-a-box craziness of its own. For the first time in NHL history, all six games have been decided by one goal. Three needed an extra period or two. Both teams have scored 14 goals. (By comparison, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia combined for 13 goals in one game of their first-round series.) So what lessons have the Caps learned that will help them in Game 7?
“We’ve seen them six times,” said Matt Hendricks. “Nothing’s going to change. We have to be defensively sound and stay out of the box.”
Didn’t I just say that? Don’t open the box!
Ovechkin’s goal Sunday afternoon was his second of this series, and it speaks to his popularity that he can perform unlicensed rhinoplasty on Zdeno Chara, drawing a high-sticking penalty, and the fans still will chant obscenities at the officials. It was probably unintentional — he was the filling in a Chara-Benoit Pouliot sandwich along the glass at the time — but his stick was high, very high, and it drew blood, lots of blood. You could clone Chara with the amount of DNA left on that stick.
In fact, Game 6 was as sloppy and, at times, as chippy as Saturday’s Game 5 was crisp. Boston was called for five penalties and the Caps for six: hooking, high-sticking, roughing and tripping, which sounds like the worst personal injury law firm ever.
And you know who to blame — the poor Wizards. If they didn’t have a home game Monday, Game 6 could have been played then. Back-to-back playoff games are not ideal. Too much travel, too little sleep, too many aches and pains, too little treatment time — and no workouts in which to work out the kinks.
Now the Caps will have an extra day to think about Game 7. Of course, so will the Bruins. Their thoughts should be happier. During last season’s run to the Stanley Cup, three of their four series went seven games. Boston Coach Claude Julien, asked if it was fitting that this series go seven games, said that for his team, it certainly was.
“When you look at the way the series has been played, you’re right; it’s been a dogfight from start to finish,” he said. “As they say, it is what it is and I think both teams are heading into Game 7 with the same kind of confidence.”
Ovechkin certainly seems to be. While he’d like to take charge, he knows he doesn’t have to. Ten players have scored the Caps’ 14 playoff goals — Mike Green and Jason Chimera broke into the club Sunday. He didn’t sound worried Sunday night.
“It’s difficult, but I don’t think it’s going to be hard,” he said. “It’s going to be a 50-50 game, 50-50 chances.”
“It’s the Boston Bruins,” said Alzner. “They’re not going to go down easy. We knew it was going to be a long series.”
Seven games, to be precise.
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/
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