This time, Game 7 was heavenly for cool, calm Capitals
Game 7 epitomized the entire series in that it was closer than expected
The Capitals played solid defense and got stronger as the game went on
The Caps' statement win evens the odds vs. the Penguins in the next series
This game epitomized the entire series in that it was closer than expected. Not until Sergei Fedorov ripped a stop-up wrister over the left shoulder of Henrik Lundqvist did the heavily favored Washington Capitals procure a lead (RECAP | BOX). The Rangers fought valiantly in this one after displaying more confusion than conviction in the last two contests -- thus forfeiting their once imposing 3-1 series lead.
So, for the second season in a row, the Caps had the opportunity to win at home in a seventh game after mounting a two-game comeback. Last year's memory was not pleasant. With that in mind, the free-flowing Capitals focused on defense. They never pressed unnecessarily. With their skill, it was a smart strategy. Go slowly. Stay patient and make the quality chances count. With Lundqvist back in top form, it made for a tight game.
That was good news for the Rangers. Add congestion in the neutral zone -- the Rangers checked relentlessly in this one -- and you had an anything-is-possible atmosphere. The mix kept the Rangers around where a bounce, a break, or a breakthrough would send them onto the second round. They had hope heading into the third. That was the risk of the Caps' measured approach, but it helped them vanquish those memories of last season's disappointment.
Or tap into them and learn. But that's Doctor Phil stuff. All I know is that the Capitals never wavered. A few timely saves along the way by rookie Simeon Varlamov made the patience-first blueprint standup. As the third period wore on, the Capitals got stronger and stronger. There was assertiveness in their effort. The sense was that the Caps were in complete control despite being tied. They forechecked and forced Lundqvist to make several quality saves to preserve the 1-1 score.
Meanwhile, the Rangers -- putting so much effort and energy into denying on defense -- only threw three pucks on Varlamov. Needless to say, that wasn't enough. Once in the lead, the Caps continued to control the puck. Winning a tightly played game and winning by a single goal when facing elimination is a major step for this Capitals team. Sure, they stormed back to win three straight, but winning in this manner signals another step in their progression.
And with that, Alex Ovechkin and his Capitals gang take on Sidney Crosby's Penguins bunch. The two marquee individuals lead their respective teams into the conference semifinals. Both teams skate well and can score beyond the two familiar faces -- especially the Pens with the NHL's leading scorer Evgeni Malkin acting as Crosby's foil. The Penguins proved they could defend and prevail in tight playoff games last year in winning the Eastern Conference title.
Now we've seen that the Capitals can win 2-1 with only 24 shots on goal when it matters most. And that statement game evens the odds against the Penguins more than you can imagine. I can't wait; should be great.
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