Jeff Halpern had become the forgotten Capital.
After playing in 62 of the teams first 63 games, he was a healthy scratch for 12 of the clubs final 15 games and had watched all 12 playoff games from Dale Hunters doghouse.
But when Jay Beagle showed up for Wednesday nights Game 6 limping badly with a leg injury, Hunter tapped Halpern on the shoulder and told the 36-year-old center to play on a fourth line with Mike Knuble and Keith Aucoin.
Its not easy, Halpern said after logging 10:23 of ice time in the Caps 2-1 win, which forces a Game 7 in New York Saturday night at 7:30. The most difficult part is not being in the game.
No matter what anyone says you dont feel part of the team. Mentally, youre trying to keep that game intensity somehow, whether its 3-on-3 games with the coaches or something.
Halpern said he asked his linemates to be patient with him as he tried to shake off the rust of not playing in 19 straight games and said he felt stronger as the game wore on. But midway through the second period Halpern clipped Rangers center John Mitchell on the bridge of his nose with a high stick and was sent to the box for four minutes.
It was another accident, Hunter said. He won big draws for us. Hes a veteran. Hes been through the wars of playoff hockey. I expected a strong game from him and thats what I got.
Halpern won seven of his 13 faceoffs but said he was disappointed in losing a draw in the final minute that allowed Marian Gabrik to score the goal that made it 2-1 with 51 seconds remaining.
I lost a big one, he said. You want to win all of them, especially when one ends up in the back of the net. You want to win those so that was disappointing for them to make it close.
With Beagles availability for Saturday uncertain, Halpern said hell keep himself ready for action in Game 7 if needed.
Hes been great, defenseman Karl Alzner said. Hes been working really hard waiting for that chance to get in and he played really well. He was great for us on the draws. He was a little nervous coming in but he did a great job.