Who will be the difference-maker in Game 7?
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|Caps goalie Braden Holtby makes a save on Rangers forward Mike Rupp during Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal last month. (Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)
NEW YORK - Mike Rupp has provided the biggest difference for his team in the biggest game of the playoffs before, so the New York Rangers forward knows what he's talking about when he says that every player should want to be that guy.
The Rangers and Washington Capitals meet in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The winner will meet the New Jersey Devils in the conference final, starting with Game 1 on Monday night. The loser will be scheduling tee times.
In 2003, Rupp scored the Cup-winning goal for the Devils in Game 7 of the final versus the Anaheim Ducks.
"It's healthy to want to be that difference," Rupp said on Saturday morning. "I heard one of the guys talking about it being one of those special days. It just feels different, like it is a birthday or something, just a special day on the calendar. It's not an everyday ordinary game. You approach it in the same way, but we all know what a special night and opportunity it is for players to play in a Game 7."
Both teams have been through the Game 7 grind once this spring, with the Rangers ousting the Ottawa Senators in the first round and the Capitals eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
Caps forward Jason Chimera scored the winning goal in Game 6 against the Rangers, and agreed with Rupp's assertion that it's crucial to want to be the difference-maker.
"You want the puck on your stick, you want to be that guy," Chimera said. "It's one of those games you want to play when you are younger. Game 7s, you see the games all the time on TV, you get together with your friends to watch these games and you want to be the guy who scores the winning goal.
"But you have to relax and play the game too. You can't run around like a crazy maniac."
One of two big stars in the game will do something he has not done previously in the NHL. Neither Caps captain Alex Ovechkin nor Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has played beyond the second round.
The Caps won't have forward Jay Beagle in the lineup, who missed Game 6 with a lower-body injury. Though Washington coach Dale Hunter was being coy, saying the status of Beagle would be a game-time decision, Beagle did not take part in the morning skate.
Hunter, meanwhile, had an extra spring in his step. Hunter watched on his laptop on Friday night as the London Knights beat the Niagara IceDogs to win the Ontario Hockey League championship. Hunter, an owner of the Knights with his brother Mark, was coaching the Knights until he was hired by the Capitals in November.
Speculation persists that Hunter will return to the Knights once the Capitals are finished. The Knights will participate in the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Que., May 18-27.
"It has been a great year, some of it unexpected," Hunter said.