SILVER SPRING, Md. -- Spring is the season when this sprawling D.C. metroplex is traditionally exposed to Capital punishment, and historically there has been no more frequent nor enthusiastic executioner than the Penguins.
But what climaxes tonight at the Verizon Center in downtown is part of hockey's New Testament, the part being written by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the part no longer inextricable from the gospels according to Mario and Jaromir and St. Petr of Nedved. It is written that of the seven playoff series between Pittsburgh and Washington, the Penguins have won six, that of 48 playoff games, the Penguins have won 29, and that, in some texts, there shall come a fourth time the Penguins eliminate the Capitals after falling behind in a playoff series by 2-0 or 3-1.
That's some harsh judgment, theology fans, and it might well happen tonight, but it will not be because of anything that hashappened. Very little about any Game 7 lends itself to precognition, and very little about the six uniquely exquisite games that went before this one will soon be forgotten. These 12 Days in May frame the best playoff hockey series some of us have seen.
In six blistering chapters, three have been decided in overtime, five have been decided by one goal and one goal is the composite difference in the series to this point (Pittsburgh 21, Washington 20). Both teams have demonstrated that, given a few extra minutes, they can burglarize the other's house. And before finding the net, all three overtime goals hit something other than what was intended.
The 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals have had more layers than a Russian novel and nearly as many novel Russians.
Crosby and Ovechkin have been brilliant, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin richly compelling, and the bad blood and political rhetoric have been flowing consistently in just the right dosages, not too bitter, not too mild.
Does it have to end tonight?
Fans of both hockey clubs, could they be absent their passion for five seconds, might find meaning in the ancient Jackson Browne lyric finally poked into the pop culture net by Glenn Frey:
We may lose and we may win,
though we will never be here ag'in.
This is Crosby's first Game 7. He imagines, at age 21, that several will follow eventually, but neither he nor Ovechkin nor any member of this serial melodrama's robust cast will ever play in a seven-game series with so many luminescent narrative threads.
Look at Rob Scuderi, for example.
Do you think when Scuderi dreams, he is chasing Ovechkin up and down the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Monroeville to Breezewood and back, on horseback, in pajamas, and he is afraid he'll lose him at the toll plaza because his horse doesn't have EZ Pass, and his toll-taker is Joan Rivers, and she won't give his change unless he agrees to go on QVC to sell earrings in the shape of hockey sticks?
All right maybe not.
But Ovechkin has seven goals in six games. Were it not for Scuderi, he might have 17.
What does Scuderi get for containing, sort of, the most skilled goal-scorer in hockey, besides relative anonymity?
In this series, he gets a chance to end it in overtime in Game 6. In this series, he lashes it past Washington goalie Simeon Varlamov, Dr. Nyet, as the Mellon Arena crowd leaps. In this series, the guy who might deserve to end it on his terms more than anyone in uniform, watches the twisting biscuit hit the crossbar and bounce away.
"A knucklepuck," he called it. "I thought I got good wood on it, but it wasn't meant to be."
It's nearly impossible to figure out what is meant to be tonight. What stick or body part is going to be in front of what shot at what point -- if any -- that will determine on virtually no meritorious basis who goes to the Eastern Conference final and who slinks toward another cruel, cruel summer?
Marc-Andre Fleury could steal a game, as he hasn't this series, and the Penguins could win, 6-0. Varlamov could frustrate the Penguins substantially at the outset, and a resultant psychological deflation could ignite a Capitals offensive now suddenly augmented by Semin and Viktor Kozlov, who had two goals in Game 6, and the Capitals could win, 6-0.
The truth, as it has been for most of two weeks, is likely a lot closer to the middle: 3-3 after regulation.
"The first five or 10 minutes, we have to take the air out of the building and make them play our way," Scuderi was saying after Game 6. "I think we've been able to do that the three times we played here. We didn't get the outcome in the first two games, but we did it."
It has been eight years since the Penguins played a Game 7. Even if it turns up unworthy of the wait, everything that necessitated it has been worth every palpitation.
Gene Collier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .