Tight series grinds to a Game 7

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby looks through heavy traffic as Rangers Artem Anisimov and Ryan...

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby looks through heavy traffic as Rangers Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan fall in the crease during Game 6 of their NHL Eastern Conference semifinal series at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., May 9, 2012. (GARY CAMERON/Reuters)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:36 PM ET

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. - Ryan Callahan couldn't help but smile at the analogy.

Told that watching the Eastern Conference semifinal between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals is akin to watching two teams try to squeeze water from a stone, Callahan, the Rangers captain, grinned.

"It's good playoff hockey," Callahan said Friday following practice. "You realize that every little play means so much, every little thing you do can be the difference.

"It's tight, really tight. It's hard to create anything offensively, on both sides."

Scoring chances in the series have happened as often as an insightful answer from Rangers coach John Tortorella, and if you're the kind of fan who likes goals by the bushel, be thankful there is just one game remaining in the best-of-seven.

The winner of Game 7 Saturday night at Madison Square Garden will advance to the conference final against the New Jersey Devils, with Game 1 on Monday, no matter which team has home-ice advantage. That will be a first for one of a pair of big stars in this series: For all that they have done during the season, neither Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist nor Capitals stud Alex Ovechkin has advanced past the second round of the playoffs.

Trying to predict which of those two will do something he has never done before would be a bit foolish. Consider that the Capitals and Rangers, through the first six games, have been tied or separated by one goal for 90% of the playing time. Just one game, the first one, was decided by more than one goal, and that was two (a 3-1 Rangers win).

All seven of the Caps' victories in the playoffs, and five of their six losses, have been by one goal. They're the first team since the Buffalo Sabres in 2006 to have their first seven wins in the post-season decided by one goal.

Perhaps a clear indication of which team wins will come early, as the team that has scored first in every game of the series has won. But we wouldn't count on that.

"We have to keep the same level of desperation," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. "One team has pushed and the other has pushed back. The teams are so evenly matched. It's tough to maintain momentum."

So what has made the difference?

"Imposing your will on the opponent," Laich said. "Ultimately, it's who can move the other guy.

"Nobody wants to make that mistake early. For us, we don't change a thing, keep playing the same way. We have played well in that building. You can't get frozen up by the pressure and the intensity. You have to let yourself be free and enjoy it. If you're a skater, skate. If you're a shooter, shoot."

Any professional hockey player with a pulse, well, most of them, will tell you there is nothing that gets the blood flowing like a Game 7. Even Tortorella, God forbid he tip his hand on anything, acknowledged that "Game 7 isn't just a game."

Although home-ice advantage mostly has been an afterthought in the 2012 playoffs, in that parity has made it redundant, the Rangers are thrilled to be playing such a pivotal game in front of their fans.

"Where else would you rather be?" Brad Richards said. "We don't get many chances to do something in Game 7 like Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

"Treat is as when you don't get to play in them, and you are watching the playoffs, you cherish the chance to be in them. Treat it like a great day in your life."

Richards said there is one big difference between now and appearing in his first Game 7, when he played for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I'm probably a little more nervous the older I get," Richards said, "because I was just kind of young and stupid at that time."

EVEN STEVEN

The Eastern Conference semifinal between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals will be decided in Game 7 Saturday, and the two sides came by the one-game showdown honestly. A glance at how even the clubs have been in several crucial areas through the first two rounds:

Goals per game

Team G/Gm NHL rank

Washington, 2.15, 9th
NY Rangers, 2.08, 11th

Goals against per game

Team Ga/Gm NHL rank

NY Rangers, 1.92, 3rd
Washington, 2.15, 6th

Shots per game

Team S/Gm NHL rank

NY Rangers, 29.8, 8th
Washington, 27.9, 12th

Shots against per game

Team Sa/Gm NHL rank

NY Rangers, 28.8, 6th
Washington, 32.9, 14th

Hits

Team Hits NHL rank

NY Rangers, 453, 1st
Washington, 427, 2nd

Blocked shots

Team BS NHL rank

Washington, 293, 1st
NY Rangers, 248, 2nd

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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