It should come as no surprise that Game 7 of the second round of this playoff series required overtime. Frankly, it should also come as no surprise that the Washington Capitals’ 2015 season would end in a complete Game 7 heartbreaker.
After a tough 4-3 Game 6 loss at the Verizon Center, Caps left winger Alex Ovechkin told reporters that his team would not let the New York Rangers stage yet another major series comeback after trailing three games to one.
Ovechkin did his part in the promise by getting things started 12:50 into Game 7 when he received a great pass streaking in the slot and placed his shot right over Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s (35 saves) glove. The goal was Ovechkin’s fifth goal of the season’s playoffs.
After the Capitals killed off two prior penalties early in the third period, Washington defenseman (and soon to be unrestricted free agent) Mike Green took a cross-checking penalty which was the team’s third consecutive infraction (Green’s second).
New York made Washington pay and tied the game at one 6:22 into the second period thanks to Rangers right winger Kevin Hayes.
When the regulation period buzzer sounded, the game remained tied at one.
After a massive onslaught by the Capitals early in overtime, the Rangers clinched a berth in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive year with a goal from center Derek Stepan. His score came with 8:36 left in overtime and left Washington goaltender Braden Holtby (37 saves) looking completely dejected.
The Stepan goal marks the fifth time in the Capitals’ 40-year history that they have blown a three-games-to-one lead in a series. This is the second consecutive time they have done it against the New York Rangers.
Much of Washington’s collapse was due to the seemingly un-humanlike play of Henrik Lundqvist’s. In Game 7’s, “The King” is now 6-0 with a 0.97 goals against average — the lowest in NHL history — and a .973 save percentage. With the win, he has tied legendary NHL goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy with the most Game 7 wins in history.
The New York Rangers improved to 7-0 all time at Madison Square Garden in Game 7’s.
Something that will likely haunt this Capitals team till next October is the fact that they were 1:41 from clinching their own berth to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 17 years back in Game 5. A late Rangers comeback and overtime win in that matchup kept Washington from advancing for just the third time in franchise history.
As well, May 13 has been a date that has long haunted that Capitals and has favored the Rangers. Back in 2013, New York defeated Washington 5-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In 2014, the Rangers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Finally, the Rangers prevailed 2-1 against the Capitals again, in 2015.
New York will start the Eastern Conference Finals this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Madison Square Garden versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For the Capitals, as has become common place over recent memory, it’s another bad case of the “coulda, shoulda, woulda”’s.