Well folks, it’s going to Game 8. You read right – both these teams have played enough hockey between the triple overtime and just how incredibly close this series has been, it feels like we’re at least at Game 8 by now.
The Great 8 himself Alex Ovechkin opened up the scoring Wednesday night with a powerplay slapper over the shoulder of Henrik Lundqvist. With that goal Ovechkin tied Peter Bondra in the Washington Capitals franchise record for playoff goals with 30.
The Caps were able to capitalize on one of their three powerplay opportunities, while also killing off all five Ranger powerplays. One of those Caps PKs was a double minor for high sticking, a call that haunts the Caps from Game 5 when Joel Ward was penalized in the final minutes and allowed the Rangers to crawl back into it and eventually win. Despite Ward taking some of the blame for their loss in Game 5, he was given a nod of confidence from his coach in Game 6 and moved up to the third line to plug the gap left after Jay Beagle was a scratched with a “lower body injury”. This meant that Matt Hendricks would move up to center where he won 56.2% of faceoffs, not bad for someone who’s spent a majority of the season on left wing.
The Caps got out of the first period with a 1-0 advantage and cresting momentum. Washington carried that momentum into the second and halfway through the second padded their lead to 2 with a goal that ricocheted off Nicklas Backstrom perfectly onto Jason Chimera’s stick for the easy tap in on a down-and-out Lundqvist.
While the first two periods of the game felt a lot like the Capitals were out-chancing the Rangers, the shots told a different story. The Rangers out-shot their opponents 31-23 in this one, leaving each individual period with more shots than the Caps, but the shot count would have been a lot more deadly had the Caps not blocked 24 shots, that’s four times as many blocks as the Rangers.
What shots did get through the red shirts were stopped with confidence by Braden Holtby. Holtby held onto his high-stakes shutout until just under the final minute of play when a shot from the point deflected in on an opportunity Holtby had no chance of stopping with the Rangers all crowding the crease. Holtby posted a .968 save percentage and was the night’s No. 1 star. With tonight’s start Holtby became the most experienced playoff goalie on Washington’s roster, having played more playoff games than Vokoun (11) or Neuvirth (9).
The Capitals held on in the third period by deploying some textbook Hunter Hockey, playing one forechecker and a whole lotta defense backing him up. The Rangers showed some fight in the third, but there would be no 6.6 seconds-remaining soul crusher like in Game 5. Now, it’s two days rest before Saturday’s Game 7, which will be the second Game 7 for both these teams, the only difference is the Caps will have to win theirs on the road…again.
Matt Stephen is a writer, not a fighter. He is both a beer and fantasy league veteran and has written about hockey online and in print for The Hockey News. He now covers the spectrum from the White House to Mike Green. He carries a picture of Ovechkin in his wallet.