WASHINGTON -- Montreal Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill has been around a few Game 7s in his career, including one in this building last season, when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens, of course, knocked off the Washington Capitals 6-2 in that game en route to a Stanley Cup win.
He said there is always a defining moment in these contests. "A save or a goal," he said.
In that particular game, it was a save by Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury on an early breakaway by Alex Ovechkin that shifted momentum. Gill said he will think about his previous experiences in these situations.
"I think you look at your state of mind. Sometimes you feel like you might have been too loose, you might have been too tight," he said. "You draw off experiences, but every game is different and there's momentum changes; you're going to be down, you're going to be up, there's a lot of things going on out there. If you plan too much, often you get slapped in the face with something different."
Someone pointed out that this is the fourth straight seven-game playoff series for Washington but the first in which the Caps are coming off a loss. Does that make a difference?
"It's the biggest difference in the world," Gill joked. "No, no, no I don't think that matters. It's its own beast."
Putting Game 7 into perspectiveOne possible lineup change tonight could involve veteran forward Scott Walker, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Carolina Hurricanes but has yet to see any game action in this series for Washington.
Walker scored the overtime winner in a Game 7 thriller against the Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs last season. He said there's always a sense of uncertainty heading into a deciding game.
"Is your goalie going to be good, our power play going to be good, our penalty kill? You just have to assume everything's going to be good," Walker said. "You've got to assume they're going to be good, their goalie's going to be good and you just got to say, 'OK, I've got to be good.'"
Although he hasn't been in the lineup, Walker brings not just experience but perspective. Last year at this time, he had just learned his wife had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
"I had so many things going on in my life at that point that weren't hockey-related, so it's such a different feeling," Walker said. "Honestly, good or bad, Game 7 really didn't mean that much to me last year. I mean, it did in a sense, but it really didn't. There was so much going on, there was so many things; at the exact time of Game 7 in Boston was basically when I found out about my wife.
"It was almost near impossible to think. I still remember to this day getting my skates on, sitting on the bench sometimes, the play was going on, I was thinking, 'What am I going to do? Is everything going to be all right?' It was crazy stuff, but you were yet in the game and you felt it, but sometimes I felt I was sitting outside of the game."
A year later, his wife has recovered and Walker is wondering whether he'll get another chance at Game 7 glory.
"It's a different feeling now," he said. "I'm excited to be around it and have a positive feeling about winning, but also positive about life in general that everybody's health is hopefully great."
'Heroes are made and goats are talked about'Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said he didn't think his team was worrying at this stage about having blown a 3-1 series lead.
"Either team would have loved to have won it earlier," Boudreau said. "Game 7 is what it is, it's an exciting part of hockey lore, and heroes are made and goats are talked about in TSN on the highlights for the next year. So it's an exciting time if you're an athlete; it's the position you want to be in."
As for a test of character, the coach said he thinks both teams have displayed loads of character in this series.
"I think you're going to see a great hockey game with both teams willing to do anything it takes to win," Boudreau said. "And the character, both teams are in a Game 7 in a hard-fought series where you've got one guy playing when he pulls his tooth out [Eric Belanger], other guys in Montreal playing definitely injured, so that's the character."
More on special teamsOf course, the Canadiens' penalty kill, along with the play of netminder Jaroslav Halak, has been the story of the Habs' comeback in this series. But Gill said they can't rest on their laurels.
"We've been solid, but it's about what we do tonight. Obviously we don't want to take as many penalties, but we're going to have to kill some, and it's all what we bring tonight," he said. "The thing about special teams is it's a whole new battle every time you get out there. There's going to be a different setup, there's going to be different personnel, there's going to be different changes in the game, and we have to be able to adapt to those."