The Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Verizon Center.

Ok, that's all for my journalism background.

This game is a big deal.

It's big for the players. Unlike athletes in other professional sports, hockey players are in it for one thing: to win the Cup. Sure, the paycheck is nice. But no one starts playing hockey at five years old for the money. They play on frozen ponds and streams; get ice time at the rink at 6 a.m. (or earlier), and always dream of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.

From Ovechkin to Beagle, the only thing more precious than lacing them up tonight would be to lace them up again against Boston or Carolina.

It's big for the organization. No one wants to win this thing more than Ted Leonsis. He gave the orders to rebuild this franchise from the ground up, and took a lot of heat in doing so. Two straight Southeast Division titles are nothing to sneeze at, but redemption and validation start with dispatching the Penguins and moving on to the Eastern Finals.

George McPhee was Leonsis' architect. He sent out some big names, and in return acquired young talent at every opportunity, and has drafted key players up and down the lineup, from the goalie to the MVP. His hard work is flourishing and should be recognized.

And the coach, Bruce Boudreau. The career minor leaguer who caught lightning in a bottle last season to win the Adams award, he is proving every night that he belongs with the big boys in the coaching fraternity.

It's big for the league. The three most talented players in the league--on two of the youngest teams in the league--have been facing off for six thrilling, heart-stopping, roller coaster games. It's been a rating bonanza, nationally and locally.

Five games have been decided by one goal, the other just two. Three games went to overtime, including the Game Six possible-elimination game. Both teams have led in each game. Both teams have led the series.

The teams have been tied or had just a one-goal lead for 92 percent of the series.

There has been intrigue, innuendo and accusations. There has been performance. There have been unlikely heroes.

This series has had it all. And then some.

It's big for the fans. The Capitals have long been the distant cousin to their neighbors to the north. Philly, New York (Islanders and Rangers), New Jersey, Pittsburgh. None will admit to the Caps being a "rival", since rivals rip your heart out. Yet, those teams are the Caps' rivals.

Ask anyone who has been a fan of the Caps for longer than ten minutes, and they'll tell you. They'll tell you about Billy Smith and Pat LaFontaine and Mario Lemieux and Ron Hextall. They'll tell you about Anders Kallur, Kevin Stevens and Ray Ferraro. They'll tell you about Joffrey Lupul.

They'll tell you about the legions of Flyers and Penguins fans invading the Cap Centre. Buses and buses of them. About being visitors in their own building.

They'll tell you about the post-lockout empty MCI Arena, where you could walk up for a Tuesday night game and buy any seat you wanted.

They'll tell you about the Finals in 1998, when the building was 3/4 full of Red Wings fans.

They'll tell you that going to the Finals in 1998 was great, but it would mean so more to go through Pittsburgh.

It's time for all that to end. Winning tonight means not just advancing to the Conference Finals, but it means advancing past all the history, all the heartbreak, all the misery. It means tearing the hearts out of someone else's chest. It brings validation; arrival. Redemption.

Rock the Red.