It goes without saying Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby must exhibit the utmost in driven hockey tonight in the Game 7 showdown between Washington and Pittsburgh.
Similarly, since the wags are done wringing their hands over Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin is once again winging the puck towards the net faster than a Jai Alai player, the next two biggest stars will be on board, too.
So who will be the difference-makers? Let’s look to the support staff for the answers.
With defenses trying to keep Sid, Geno and the two Alexes off the board, someone else must step up to deliver the death blow.
For Washington, it’s not hard to see that role fall to Sergei Fedorov. Famously the only Capital with Stanley Cups to his name (three from his salad days in Detroit), Fedorov should be wearing the ‘C’ in Washington right now, but will surely settle for a ‘W’ Wednesday tonight.
The Russian veteran exhibited all the best traits of a winner in Game 6, looking fiercely determined while never giving up on a play. Every time Fedorov touched the puck, you could tell he was looking to break the game open. He may have ended the game with just one assist, but it’s easy to picture him celebrating the winning goal in the series, much as he did against the Rangers in the first round.
On the other end of the spectrum, defenseman Shaone Morrisonn isn’t expected to put up points, but he will be depended on to keep the big Pittsburgh guns off the scoresheet. With the fragile state of Mike Green’s game right now, Morrisonn’s stay-at-home ethic will be crucial to keeping the Penguins at bay.
Speaking of the Pens, if there is an obvious not-so-obvious choice for hero in the visiting dressing room, it’s young blueliner Kris Letang. Taking on more responsibility since the loss of Sergei Gonchar, Letang cannot be afraid to roll the dice in Game 7, whether Gonchar returns or not. Letang has proven himself as a clutch scorer, in regular season shootouts and earlier in this series when he notched the overtime winner in Game 3.
On a team of young stars, Letang has been overshadowed. Originally, Ryan Whitney was supposed to be the Pens’ blueline rock for years to come; now it’s Letang with Alex Goligoski getting his feet wet behind the slick Quebecker.
As for a not-so-obvious choice, look to Maxime Talbot for some magic. Every good team needs grinders and pluggers and Talbot certainly fits the bill. He’s a character guy who also keeps goalie Marc-Andre Fleury loose before games, so if Talbot doesn’t sink the Caps with a goal, he will at least be charged with getting Fleury in the mood for winning.
Ultimately, that’s probably more important, seeing as Fleury’s Game 6 line wasn’t inspiring. True, the goalie was bested by several Washington rockets, but in the playoffs it doesn’t matter how they go in, rather whether or not they did go in.
At the other end of the ice, Simeon Varlamov is basically playing with house money based on his stellar rookie performance to date, but as a professional he won’t be satisfied with anything less than victory. More so than the unexpected heroes, the goaltenders face the most pressure tonight and he who thrives will be the one whose team stays alive.
THN Shootout: Caps-Pens Game 7
Host Edward Fraser sits down with writers Adam Proteau and Ryan Kennedy to discuss the much-anticipated Game 7 between the Capitals and Penguins.
Show off your hockey knowledge by entering The Hockey News’ FREE Playoff Challenge!
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.