NHL Playoffs: Now Or Never For The Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals play host to the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins tonight in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. With their backs against the wall, Washington has been able to force a Game 7 after being down 3-1 in the series. The two teams faced off last in Game 7 during the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs where the Penguins won 6-2 and went on to win the Stanley Cup Final. The Capitals will look to mimic the Penguins and propel themselves to the Stanley Cup Final with a Game 7 win against their arch rival. Without an Eastern Conference appearance since 1998, the Capitals must look to their star player to lead them to the promised land.

Alexander Ovechkin has not had the best luck in Game 7s throughout his NHL career. When comparing him to the Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin has not had the success necessary to make it past the winner take all game. He has a Game 7 record of 3-6 entering tonight while Crosby has a record of 3-2. Both teams are no stranger to elimination playoff games and pressure to win could be applied to both teams, but the Capitals are in desperate need for playoff success. With the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup last year, it is safe to say that the Capitals need this win more.

The Capitals have outplayed the Penguins in every game this series even though the results have not shown until the last few games. The Capitals have outshot the Penguins 200-133 throughout the first six games of this series and will look to continue their offensive dominance in tonight's matchup. The Washington Post has covered this matchup in their most recent article and has quoted the Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan on his team's poor play against Washington after Game 6.

Penguin's Head Coach Mike Sullivan reacts to officials against Capitals [Image by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]

"I think it's frustrating when you've got an opportunity like this to win a game and win a series at home and you don't play the way that you'd like; you can get frustrated. There was a little of frustration, but I thought we talked about making sure that we grab a hold of ourselves and stay focused and just try to play the game the right way. But we just, to a man, we weren't good enough tonight."
The Capitals seem to have all momentum pointing in their direction heading into their latest bout with the Penguins. At home in front of their home crowd, the Capitals can finally get the monkey off their backs that has plagued them since Ovechkin joined the team in 2005. Another hurdle standing in their way is the team's abysmal playoff record against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have dominated the Capitals in postseason matches with a record of 8-1 with Washington's only win coming in 1994. If there was a time and place to go against history and prove the world that you deserve the President's Trophy.

One player who may turn out to be the Capitals' savior in this game is "Mr. Game 7" Justin Williams. Williams was originally brought in two years ago to help the Capitals get over the hump come playoff time. Williams is a perfect 7-0 in the winner-take-all game and has even tallied 14 points in those games. If the spotlight is still too bright for Ovechkin, expect Williams to have a major impact if the Capitals can pull off the win.

Justin Williams skates against Phil Kessel in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins [Image by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]

This game could turn out to be one of the best of the playoffs so far with two of the top stars in the league fighting for the Eastern Conference Finals. Craig Custance of ESPN wrote about how rare this opportunity is between these two teams and how rare this matchup is.

"Eight years ago, Ovechkin and Crosby had their entire careers ahead of them. We thought that Game 7 was a preview of more of these moments to come. The reality is that we had to wait. And now the hockey world is watching because we know that you can't just assume it's going to happen again. "
With everything on the line for both teams tonight, it will be interesting to see who wants it more and which club is ready to continue their legacy towards Lord Stanley's Cup.

[Featured Image by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]