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Penguins blank Capitals in Game 7, advance to Eastern Conference Final

Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves to shut out the Capitals and lead the Penguins to a Game 7 win and into the Eastern Conference Final.

It happened again.

The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 2-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday, advancing to the 2017 Eastern Conference Final against the Cinderella Senators.

So many variables were different this time around, particularly the expectations. For anguished Capitals players and fans, all that matters is the copy-paste result.

The handshake line must have been a little awkward.

Legions of people expected the Capitals to finally break through this time around. They were loaded this season, and they know that this surplus will dry up either a bit or a lot in 2017-18. The Penguins are far from healthy, to the point that most penciled Washington in as heavy favorites.

They also were relying on Marc-Andre Fleury, with Matt Murray unavailable until tonight. “The Flower” has experienced his ups and downs, even this season, but he’s been a revelation so far this postseason. That was especially true in Game 7, when he put on a clinic through the first two periods in particular, smiling much of the time.

Bryan Rust scored the first goal off a beautiful feed from Jake Guentzel as Sidney Crosby allowed the puck to pass him by. Patric Hornqvist’s 2-0 goal was the real dagger, whether you chalk it up to a rare backhander or a gaffe by (well, pick your Capital).

The Alex Ovechkin jokes will likely be rampant on Wednesday, but the bottom line is that no Capitals player could beat Fleury tonight. And Braden Holtby, fair or not, couldn’t win the goalie battle versus “MAF.”

Some will be kinder and some will be more dismissive to the Capitals this time, yet the bottom line is tough to dispute: the story might seem different, but the conclusion is familiar ... and bitter.