Rangers face Game 7 Armageddon tonight

It all comes down to this… again. For the second time already in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Rangers will play Game 7 at home with the entire season hanging in the balance. For the Washington Capitals, it will be a second straight Game 7 on the road, so they’re unlikely to be intimidated by a Madison Square Garden crowd that will surely go crazy at the slightest provocation.

The Caps won Game 7 in Boston to finish off their Quarterfinals series, and they plan on ending round two in similar fashion.  Says defenseman Karl Alzner:

“I don’t think there are too many more hostile environments than Boston for a Game 7. We know that, we know what it’s going to be like and not to pay attention to the fans and what’s going on besides what’s happening on the ice. It’s just remembering exactly how we prepared and how we had to play it. I think last game was pretty much a Game 7 for us; that’s the way we played. I think we have to bring that back. You don’t want to overthink it, just go out and play hockey.”

I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard “just go out and play hockey” this playoff season, but it’s something that I don’t seem to tire of… kind of like those Ticket Oak commercials.

Just pure advertising genius right there.

Anyway, the increasingly indestructible Caps goaltender is sure to be ready with his “A” game tonight. That’s because he just faced the only thing scarier than a Game 7.

“It was a great day. Mom and baby are doing great, but now I’m focusing on hockey,” said Holtby, who added that the excitement of being a first-time father wouldn’t be a distraction. “Circumstances are different, but it’s still the same game. It’s still hockey. The main thing you learn when you turn professional is to separate personal life from hockey, and that’s what we’re gonna do here.”

It’s great that Holtby’s wife just gave birth to the couple’s first child, Benjamin, on Thursday. It would be even better if Holtby got to spend a lot of time with young Ben in the next few weeks. You know Mrs. Holtby and Ben will be secretly cheering for the Rangers (okay, not really). Send him home, Blueshirts!

On the Rangers side, there is concern about fatigue now that the team has played in the maximum amount of playoff games so far. Craig Custance at ESPN Insider notes that the Rangers may be getting gassed on the defense (it’s a subscription-only piece, so I linked to a blog post that summarizes).

It’s true that the Rangers top two defensive pairings, that consist of Ryan McDonaugh, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi, have been logging a ton of ice time, but they haven’t played since Wednesday. I’d figure (based on nothing, of course) that the rest combined with the adrenaline of Game 7 will keep them going strong for 60 more minutes. If not, there’s always Stu Bickel!

If that doesn’t comfort you much, please note that this is also Washington’s 14th playoff game, so hopefully the Caps will be just as tired as the Blueshirts.

Another problem for New York has been that Chris Kreider has seemingly lost his mojo after a stunningly effective beginning to his pro career. The rookie from Boston College had been relegated to the fourth line for much of the series, but according to practice reports, he’s now skating with Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan.

I’ve been very disappointed with Stepan so far this series, and Callahan has been in a bit of a slump, so I’m not sure this is a much better situation for Kreider. On the other hand, maybe the youngster’s speed and athleticism can provide a spark so that the other two can get going.

The fourth line now consists of Ruslan Fedotenko, my favorite dude John Mitchell and old man Mike Rupp. Of course, the very effective line of Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik will remain in tact, while the other line is made of Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust and Artem Anisimov.

With all the pressure and excitement surrounding Game 7, it’s important for fans to remember that no matter what, tonight is just a hockey game.

Ha ha, just kidding. This is life-altering stuff tonight, people. Have a wonderful day!

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