End of the line for Semin

Capitals forward Alexander Semin skates against the Rangers during Game 3 of their Eastern...

Capitals forward Alexander Semin skates against the Rangers during Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., May 2, 2012. (PATRICK McDERMOTT/Getty Images/AFP)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:18 PM ET

NEW YORK - There is no way of knowing what's inside Alex Semin as this monumental night of his professional career approaches.

But in many ways, this is an historic confrontation for the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers and a probable farewell for one of hockey's most confusing and confounding players.

The Capitals were built around a supposed fabulous four, Alexander Ovechkin, Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom, and this will season will end the run of that group, no matter what happens Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Game 7 may be an entrance on to a new stage or the last game Semin plays for the Caps.

Maybe the last game he plays in the NHL.

His contract is up at the end of June and Washington won't re-sign him. Others around the NHL, wondering whether the 28-year-old forward is worth the bother or the money, will debate what to do with him. No doubt, the Kontinental Hockey League in his homeland will come calling, overrating and overpricing his considerable talent.

There is no fabulous four anymore with a Capitals team that is less about stars than ever before. As Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke likes to say, the Caps are now built from the back end out.

Semin has just one point in the Eastern Conference semifinal, and his play, under the Dale Hunter earn-your-ice philosophy, has been limited. Ovechkin plays primarily when the Caps are behind or when he's very enthusiastic in tie games or with a lead. Green has never really recovered from the injuries that set him back and his gambling game has been blown up by coach Hunter. Only Backstrom, flashing the brilliance of old -- which is funny to say for a 24-year-old -- still performs to all expectations.

But the indifference of Semin, the ability to be high-risk, high-reward on the same shift, to flash a second of superb play followed by the most ghastly of turnovers, has made him an afterthought in most of Hunter's planning. But every once in a while, as he managed in Game 6, Semin did the unusual, the unexpected, and there were good results because of it.

With the Caps leading 1-0, Semin had the puck on his stick, was knocked to the ice, somehow continued to fight for the puck and use his slick hands to keep control of it, regained his feet and made a play, which two passes later resulted in the winning goal being scored by Jason Chimera.

There was no assist for him on the play, even though the goal would never have been scored without him. Two others touched it before Chimera. But Semin's play did what he is paid to do. Without him, there would be no winning goal and there is no tangible record of that on any scoresheet.

So many Game 7 victories come from that kind of play. The kind of play Semin's skill allows him to make. The kind of play we haven't seen much from him as his goals have diminished from 40 to 28 to 21 the past three seasons. No one will score what they used to score playing for Hunter. His defence-first approach mandates that. But Semin did score three times during the opening round against Boston, two of them on the power play, and in Game 7 Saturday, first goal matters.

In fact, it has mattered all series long. In each of the first six games of the series the team scoring first has won. That shouldn't change Saturday night. But what will change, should the Caps lose, or when they lose, is that this group of four with supreme talent, put together to win a championship, will never play together again.

The pressure, though, is really on the Rangers. They were expected to win the series before this point and have been outplayed, even as the series is tied. They are at home Saturday. They have the good-luck charm in Ruslan Fedotenko, now a marginal player, who has a 5-0 career won-loss record in Game 7s. Included on his resume is a Stanley Cup-winning goal (in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning) and two other markers in clinching games.

Both the Rangers and Caps have career losing records in Game 7s. The great Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers is just 1-1 career in these monumental matchups. The new papa, Braden Holtby, has one Game 7 under his belt, one victory.

Almost always, the heroes of clinching games are not the stars in the lineup but the workers. Who knows? The former star, Semin, is now a worker. Maybe he has more to say before his time in Washington comes to an end.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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