|Chimera is just a little happy with his game-winning goal. (US Presswire)|
WASHINGTON -- The players that make up the Capitals roster are largely the same group that has been suiting up in the red for the past few seasons. There are some faces that go in and out, but for the most part there is a core of guys who have been here for a few years.
The similarities though don't go much further than that. These Capitals are different, and I'm not just talking about the way they play. That's been discussed a ton. Dale Hunter has transformed this team into a mean, lean shot-blocking and defending machine.
No, the word that comes to mind now is resilient. Adversity? The Caps of the past never seemed to respond well to it. These Caps? You could almost say they've thrived on it.
"That's just the way we are," Jason Chimera said. "We're a cool team in here, we don't really crack."
It's like this team is a Chumbawamba song.
Through the first two rounds, the Capitals have lost four overtime games. They won the following game each time, including a 2-1 win over the Rangers on Wednesday night to force a Game 7 on Saturday in New York.
And no loss was as gut-wrenching as the one they suffered in Game 5. Leading with 30 seconds to go, Joel Ward took a brutal penalty, a double-minor high-sticking call. That set the table for a Rangers goal with 6.7 seconds to go from Brad Richards and then Marc Staal finished it off less than two minutes into overtime. It was as brutal as it gets. The triple-overtime loss in Game 3 was tough to swallow, but Game 5 was indigestible.
Or so you'd think.
"Definitely they battled again because of the character we have in the dressing room," Hunter said. That character resulted in a team jumping out of the gate faster than I'll Have Another at Churchill Downs.
If there was any worry of a hangover from that loss; it was removed within seconds of Matt Hendricks winning the opening faceoff.
The first shift was good, the second shift was better. Chimera used his elite wheels to get a burst and the edge on Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman, who had no choice but to swipe at the puck from a bad angle. He just missed the puck but didn't miss Chimera, giving the Capitals a power play just 1:13 into the game.
Seconds later Alex Ovechkin was sitting all alone in the slot and firing a one-timer top shelf past Henrik Lundqvist, leading Verizon Center to Unleash the Fury the conventional way ... a raucous ovation.
"We got some confidence there," Nicklas Backstrom said. "We had a great start and just kept going."
From that moment you couldn't help but feel the game was done. The Capitals have lived by the immortal words of one Ricky Bobby: "If you ain't first, you're last." Or something like that. In all but one game this postseason the team that has scored first in a Capitals game has won.
It was as great of a start and response to adversity as you could have hoped. It showed this team's chutzpah.
"What we went through this season, guys in and out of the lineup, just these battles, how we felt down on ourselves for not being the No. 1 team in the division again," Matt Hendricks explained. "Not being at the top of the standings like we thought we should. And we come back and get in the playoff picture. Then to get out of Round 1 ...
"It's almost like a wave. We keep getting bigger, we keep feeling better and playing harder."
That resiliency is seen in Ward, who donned the goat horns after Game 5. He was determined to make up for his blunder and was given the start by Hunter.
"Guys have been unbelievable," Ward said of his teammates. "[Hendricks] and [Troy Brouwer] were really supportive the last couple of days, just cheering me on. I knew I could do it and believed in myself, it's just a matter of getting out there and executing again."
It's seen in Mike Knuble, the veteran who has been sitting on a fourth line that on Wednesday night got tremendous pressure and multiple golden scoring chances. He spent more than his fair share of time in the press box, including the Boston series. He only got in the lineup when Backstrom was suspended and he hasn't given up his spot since.
It's evident in Chimera, who has been the best worker for the Caps, doing everything all the time. He continued his tremendous season with an excellent Game 6, drawing that early penalty and later scoring to give the Caps their second goal.
Heck, it's even seen in Ovechkin. He's had plenty of opportunity to gripe since the playoffs began. His ice time has been severely cut. On Wednesday he only played 15:14 but he leads the Caps with five goals, including the early snipe in this game.
Killing penalties wasn't much of a hurdle for them to clear in Game 6 either. They killed 10 minutes of penalties with relative ease, including a massive four-minute kill in the second half of the game.
You know it's a good PK when Rangers coach John Tortorella describes his team's man advantage the only way he can.
"Sucked. Kills ya. It sucked."
It was another way the Capitals zapped all the energy from the Rangers in this game. The series has yo-yo'd so much that it's virtually impossible to predict what's going to happen next.
"I think both teams are working their tails off out there and not giving an inch," Hunter said to explain the lack of momentum in this series. "So it's even hockey out there. It's hockey plays and both teams are working and it's whoever executes at the right time."
If it's that simple as Hunter puts it, then the Caps just executed more on cue than the Rangers in Game 6. They did just about everything better, executing all phases well.
It all leads to one more battle. They have one last bit of adversity to deal with, arguably the biggest challenge a team can face in the playoffs ... a Game 7 on the road. Oh, but they've already handled that once before too.