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Serenity, Now

We’re here again. It’s Game 7. This is the sixth Game 7 the Washington Capitals have played in their last eight postseason series spanning the last five springs. They’ve been here before, so there’s no panic in their room. Recently, there has also been no panic in the Capitals’ game. And that goes for Game 1, Game 3, Game 7 or game 68 of the regular season. That calmness, that sense of serenity, has served the Capitals well. It has enabled them to bounce back from a triple-overtime loss in Game 3, and a bad beat in Game 5 here at Madison Square Garden. After crushing losses such as those, most figured the Caps for a dirt nap by now. But that calm has also given them some resilience. “I know teams in the past here,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera, “we would have crumbled for sure. I think it has a lot to do with [Caps coach Dale Hunter], with the way he conducts himself. He doesn’t get up, doesn’t get down. The next day in the video room, he’s not coming in and yelling and ranting and raving. He’s just saying, ‘Hey guys, we played a good game. That’s what happens, it’s the hockey breaks. You can’t do much about it.’ And I think guys have calmed down because of that, which is good.” Hunter’s even-keeled hand on the wheel has had an impact. So has the Caps’ prior experiences in these situations. “It just comes from a bit of maturity,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “This is our sixth Game 7 and then you count other elimination games that we’ve played in too, and survived. Our guys have been around the postseason now a little bit. This is our fifth time in there. It comes with a little bit of maturity and good veteran leadership. You rely on the people in the room and the coaching staff. And other than that, you just trust your stuff and have fun playing the game.” In addition to Hunter’s guidance and the experience in the room, the Caps have benefited from leadership from their veteran players. When Caps center Nicklas Backstrom had to serve a one-game suspension in Game 4 of the team’s first-round series against Boston, it got right wing Mike Knuble back into the lineup after an exile as a healthy scratch. Knuble’s presence in the lineup was huge – he helped generate the game-winning tally in overtime of Game 7 against the Bruins on April 25 – but his presence in the room has also had a positive effect. “I think it starts with everybody, it starts with your leaders,” says Chimera. “I think Knubs coming in this last series [against Boston]. I think him coming into that series was a big plus for us, having him in that locker room. He calms everyone down even if he doesn’t say anything, just him being there. He’s there and he’s an older guy and no matter what he does, the guys respect him and what he does on the ice. That was a big turning point for us.” You expect there to be pressure in a Game 7 situation. But with these Caps in this Game 7, that’s not necessarily the case. “I don’t think we feel any pressure in here,” says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. “I think that’s the main thing. Everyone is pretty relaxed; everyone is very confident. If we give it our best, prepare the way we know we have to, everything will work out for us. There’s no fear of losing in here. There are no second doubts or anything.” The regular season was a roller coaster ride for the Capitals, filled with heights and depths, peaks and valleys. They’ve been in the playoffs for a month now, and that time has been much more level. “I think when it comes down to it,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks, “we don’t feel like we need to do anything really special to win hockey games. We need to show up and play our game. Each guy needs to focus on playing his own game. We don’t have to go out there – and if you’re a checker such as myself – you don’t have to try and go end-to-end, to do anything outside of your means. “I think we’re a group that’s focused on playing within ourselves, doing what’s got us here so far, and [letting] the chips fall as they will. It’s been a series of bounces, that’s for sure.” ( For more on Game 7, here’s a link to a checklist of seven keys to winning Game 7 that ran in this space on April 25, the day the Caps bounced the Bruins in Game 7 in Boston.)