There is perhaps no better time to judge a team's or an individual's mettle than when they are faced with an elimination game. The phrase "must-win" is thrown around freely in the sports world, but only truly applicable in situations like that in which the Caps find themselves tonight - lose and the season's over. Period.
The Caps, of course, have found themselves in this spot far too often over the past two springs and have responded well, compiling a 5-1 record (with the single loss coming in overtime) and outscoring their opponents 20-11 along the way. They've also won both of the games in which they faced elimination on the road.
Not surprisingly, their best players, for the most part, have been their best players in these games - Alexander Ovechkin has five goals, an assist and a plus-four rating in the half-dozen win-or-go-homes, Nicklas Backstrom is 3-3-+5 (and has scored in each of the six games), Alexander Semin is 4-3-+4 and Mike Green is 1-4-+4.
Looking for veteran leadership? Sergei Fedorov - who has at least a point in each of the last ten games he's played in which one team or the other could be eliminated - has two goals (including the series-winning tally last round), five assists and a plus-four rating as a Cap and Tom Poti has a goal and four assists (all last series and four of those points came in Game 6). Role players stepping up? Matt Bradley had two goals in Game 5 of the Rangers series and added an assist in Game 7 and Brooks Laich has six assists and a plus-five rating (but hasn't found the back of the net). And the only applicable goalie stats that matter are Simeon Varlamov's sparkling 3-0 record, 1.33 goals against average and .940 save percentage.
Other than the five goal-scoring forwards listed above, however, the Caps wings and pivots have been awfully silent, having scored just one goal in the six games (Viktor Kozlov's eventual game-winner in Game 6 of the Rangers series). Tomas Fleischmann was point-less in the three first round elimination games this season, and didn't play in any of them last year. Kozlov has three helpers in six games to go along with his goal.
On the blueline, Milan Jurcina had a goal and had a plus-four rating in Games 5 through 7 last series, Shaone Morrisonn was plus-five (both were even in each of the final three games a year ago), and John Erskine was was plus-one last round and plus-two last year in elimanation games (worth noting, however, is that Erskine has been a minus-one in each of his last five games).
On special teams, the Caps have scored at a 23.1% rate on the power play (but were worse against the strong Rangers penalty kill) and have only killed off 74.1% of the extra-man advantages they've faced (but were better against the woeful Rangers power play).
Point being, the Caps have been here before. And they've done well as a team, thanks to their stars and a bit of help from elsewhere.
But they haven't faced an elimination game against these Penguins (or even a team like them), so these stats mean little. What does mean something, however, is how these Caps - to a man - play. Win or lose, tonight's effort will tell you all you need to know about a lot of these guys and their respective futures with this team... whether that begins Wednesday night or next October.