The Washington Capitals didn’t just beat the New York Islanders in Game 7 of their Stanley Cup first round playoff series – they destroyed them.
If it wasn’t for the gravity-defying miracles of Islanders’ goalie Jaroslav Halak, the score might have been 10-1 rather than just 2-1. The Islanders’ paltry 11 shots was the lowest total racked up in a Game 7 of any Stanley Cup series – ever. The Capitals’ performance was so dominating in every position, it begs the question: where was the Game 7 team for Game 6?
Every Washington player was on top of his game Monday at the Verizon Center, and every player except for Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson recorded at least one shot. The defense played its best game of the season, let alone the postseason. The Islanders out-hit the Caps 54-46, but most of those 46 Capital hits were of the demolishing and demoralizing variety – the Islanders looked tired and beaten up by the middle of the third period.
VIDEO: Highlights of the Washington Capitals Dismantling the Islanders
Kuznetsov in Starring Role Again
The Capitals played the kind of game that could land them in the Stanley Cup Final and one player has emerged as a game-changing star. Evgeny Kuznetsov rewarded the franchise that believed in him this term with a spectacular goal. “Kuzy” was already making waves in the series by scoring two goals through six games, but the game-winning goal he scored Monday catapulted the young Russian into overnight stardom. He made a mindboggling move to breeze by Islanders center Frans Nielsen before dispatching a wrist shot over a prone Halak from the slot to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead that they never relinquished.
Joel Ward put the Capitals in front in the final minute of the second period. If Kuznetsov’s goal was a work of art, then Ward’s was a workhorse goal—the kind you get by grinding away and never giving up on a scoring chance. Ward practically pool-cued the puck under a seated Halak to score – setting off a wild celebration both on and off the ice. Ward jumped up and down as much as his adoring fans.
Nielsen scored early on in the third period to tie up the game at 1-1 but – let’s face it – it was a Braden Holtby error as much as it was a Nielsen goal. The usually solid Capitals goalie allowed a so-so shot from near the blue line to get under his pads and in. But, in Holtby’s defense, the poor guy was probably bored at that point of the game and needed a wake-up call.
The Best New York Team is Next
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz clearly has the chops to get a solid performance out of his team. He’s turned the Capitals into a team that – if it’s firing on all cylinders – can lift the Cup for the first time in its history.
“We talked about no matter what happens in the series because we were so evenly matched, leave our best game out there and if it wasn’t good enough tonight, we could live with that,” said Trotz to reporters after Game 7. “But if it was good enough, then we’ll get a chance to move on. I thought that was our best game [of the series], and we let it all out there, and full credit to the whole group.” I’ll go a step further and state that it was their best game of the season.
The Capitals led in takeaways, faceoff wins, shots, goals, facial hair – everything. However…next up for them, as usual, is the New York Rangers.
The best New York team in the league will bring more shots, ferocious hits and a better defense than the Islanders, but if the Game 7 Capitals team shows up for every game with the Rangers, the sky is the limit – especially for Kuznetsov.
The Stanley Cup Semifinal series between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers begins Thursday at 7.30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.