WASHINGTON -- Game 7s: They never get old.
Unless, of course, you rarely win one, which has been the problem for the Washington Capitals, who host the New York Islanders on Monday night in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Here are four things to consider with the New York Rangers awaiting the winner of the Isles-Caps series.
Does history matter?: Only if you keep repeating it. Washington head coach Barry Trotz suggested that for some of his players who haven’t had positive experiences in this situation before, this will be an opportunity to write a fresh history. The Caps have gone to Game 7 in eight of their past 10 postseason series and are 1-4 in Game 7s played at Verizon Center since the Alex Ovechkin era began in 2005-06.
Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said the biggest lesson he’s learned is not to play nervous. Easier said than done, we suspect. Both teams have much to prove in terms of long-term planning, and a positive result Monday will be key to reinforcing that they are on the right path. You wonder, though, whether the Islanders’ relative lack of experience in these situations will be helpful or harmful.
"I think sometimes it's almost better because you're just treating it like another game," said the Isles' Cal Clutterbuck. "I feel like when there's tons of expectations on teams and certain guys, human nature is for them to kind of change a little bit. I think for us it was just kind of ignorance is bliss for a lot of guys."
Physicality will continue: This series has been by far the most physical of the eight first-round matchups, with the teams combining for more than 500 hits, nearly 90 per game. Does nervousness or fear of taking penalties change that dynamic for Game 7? Players on both teams don't think so.
"I don’t expect too much to change," Islanders forward Josh Bailey said Monday morning. "It hasn't changed throughout the course of the series. Every game's been a battle. I anticipate the same thing for tonight."
The special teams question: Will the odds finally catch up to either team on the special-teams front? The Capitals have been perfect on the penalty kill, denying the Islanders on all 13 power-play attempts in this series. The Capitals, meanwhile, have been only slightly more productive, scoring on just two of their 13 man-advantage attempts in the series. They did get a power-play goal from John Carlson to break a drought in Game 6, but it wasn't enough to prevent a 3-1 loss that set up the series finale.
Troy Brouwer of the Capitals said that the strong penalty kill has allowed Washington to maintain the mindset of pressuring the Islanders physically instead of backing off for fear of drawing penalties. Is it possible the Isles could win a seven-game series without scoring a power-play goal? We’re saying it’s doubtful, although Boston accomplished the feat a few years back against Montreal.
Isles' injury issues: We often talk of a playoff series as a battle of attrition. The Capitals will be without Eric Fehr for the fourth straight game, but it’s the Islanders whose depth will continue to be tested in Game 7. They continue to dress a young, inexperienced blue line because of injuries to veterans Travis Hamonic, who has not played at all in the series; Lubomir Visnovsky, who has missed two games; and Calvin de Haan, who missed Game 6.
"Our discipline all year has been really good for our hockey club," Capuano said. "We feel like we’ve done a good job no matter who’s been in our lineup for us. Guys are going to get an opportunity again here tonight. Our guys are going to work. I've stressed that all year they've been a resilient group, and I know they'll continue to play that way tonight."
One area in which that attrition may reveal itself will be early in the game, when the Capitals try to reverse the trend of allowing the Islanders to score first in five of six games, including all three at Verizon Center. They’ll be looking to get more favorable matchups against the younger Islander blueliners if they can.
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner
Matt Donovan - Scott Mayfield