GREENBURGH, N.Y. - They've talked the talk. Time to walk the walk.
On Tuesday, before they arrived in New York for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin didn't bend on his flat-out guarantee that the visitors were going to win the series. The Rangers didn't guarantee anything after what could have been their last practice of the season, except that they would be ready Wednesday night.
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"We know it's going to be a game that's all about desperation, how much you want it," said Carl Hagelin. "We're confident, we know what we can do in Game 7, so we're going into the game thinking that we're going to win. We'll let them talk."
Tanner Glass was just as diplomatic when asked about Ovechkin. "If you don't think you're going to win," he said, "you probably shouldn't be here."
And Rangers coach Alain Vigneault declared: "We need to let our actions do the talking. It's been a tremendous series . . . hard-fought, all one-goal games. Both teams have gotten outstanding goaltending. There are no secrets. Whichever team is going to go out on the ice and make more plays is going to win."
Players on each team have played in these series-deciding games, but the Rangers have won the last six Game 7s at Madison Square Garden, with the last three by scores of 2-1. The winner tonight will play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference final.
"There's experience on both sides," Martin St. Louis said. "It's not uncharted territory. I think there's pressure on both sides; the most important thing is get through your first shift, get inside the battle, after that it's a hockey game. Obviously, there's a lot on the line . . . but enjoy the moment."
On Tuesday the Rangers had an up-tempo practice in which Vigneault didn't change his lineup from Game 6 when the Rangers scored four goals but had to hold on during a frantic third-period assault from the Capitals to survive, 4-3. Rick Nash, who scored his first of the series, said one rule of Game 7 was: "You've got to throw everything at the net."
Nash, who has two goals in the 11 games of these playoffs, explained that "the goals that go in [in Game 7s] are the ones that aren't supposed to, bouncing pucks, off skates . . . seems like all the goals are coming from the battle areas."
The mindset, Nash said, is finding "a happy medium of making sure you're tight defensively, but you've got to take chances and win the offensive battles, because everything's on the line."
Vigneault believes the only difference in having home ice, besides the crowd, is with matchups. "A slight advantage is that you get last change," he said, so expect to see defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi paired against the duo of Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom. But they also must be aware of Joel Ward, who had a goal and two assists in Game 6 at Verizon Center and the winner with 1.3 seconds remaining in Game 1 at the Garden.
Veterans and rookies said the magnitude of the game won't change players' pre-game routines that include meals and naps. "I'll do what I usually do," rookie Jesper Fast said. "Of course it'll be a different type of feeling, because I haven't done this before. I think it's good to be a little bit nervous, to have that attention, but during the game I won't feel that way."
Said Hagelin: "If something works for me on a game day, you're going to keep doing that, you can't change it up now."
In Washington, where the Capitals have never reached the Eastern Conference finals, Ovechkin seemed as if he was tired of the talking, too. "Mistakes, good plays, luck, unluck," Ovechkin said. "We'll just go in there and concentrate for three periods, maybe four, maybe five. Whatever it takes."