The storyline heading into Monday night's series finale between the Capitals and New York Islanders was Washington's troubled history in Game Sevens. Yet it was the Caps who walked away with the 2-1 victory after a dominant team performance and clutch goals from Joel Ward and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
"It was an effort that probably should have been more than 2-1 the way be played," Braden Holtby said, "but start to finish that’s the game we’ve been trying to groom all year."
From the opening puck drop, it was clear this game was going to be different from Game 6. In Nassau, the Islanders jumped out to a fast start, hitting everything that moved on the ice to dictate the play. On Monday it was the Capitals who jumped out to the great start, buoyed by the raucous crowd at Verizon Center.
For a player like Kuznetsov who was experiencing his first NHL playoffs, it was quite the eye-opening experience. "Before the series I don’t understand what is this home ice advantage, but right now I understand. Our building is crazy."
Despite their strong play, however, it took nearly two periods before the Caps could pierce Jaroslav Halak. That's when Mr. Game 7 himself stepped up, Joel Ward. After Halak saved a Brooks Orpik slap shot, Ward was able to knock the puck underneath Halak and in.
"You want to be in that moment and you want to make plays and you want to be that guy," Ward said afterwards.
The Capitals dominated the game allowing only 11 shots on net. That's good for the defense, but tough on goalies who tend to cool down when they are not tested. That seemed to be the case for Holtby as he let in a soft goal between his legs in the third period in what could have been a devastating moment for the Caps' season.
"It’s not exactly a fun one to be in," Holtby said. "Mentally it’s tough. I don’t think I handled it very well, but our guys played so good in front of me that it made up fro my mistake."
Ironically it may have been the team's past with Game Sevens, the past the team was trying to escape from, that helped them continue pushing for the victory.
"I think the experience paid off for a lot of our guys that realized what it takes in a Game Seven," Holtby said. "It takes 60 full minutes and tonight that’s what it took. Realistically the effort that we put forward we might not even had to put 60 but we just couldn’t get a couple of bounces to go our way. We just kept pushing. It was an effort that we really deserved to win that game."
Despite the goal, the momentum did not seem to swing with the Islanders for very long. The Capitals maintained control and broke the deadlock thanks to Kuznetsov.
"Kuzy made an unbelievable play," Ward said. "I wouldn’t know how to describe that play to be honest."
With the game deadlocked at one, Kuznetsov took the puck on the boards in the Islanders' zone and made a quick turn to the center of the ice. His speed proved deceptive as soon Johnny Boychuk, Frans Nielesen and Jaroslav Halak were sliding all over the ice, helpless to prevent what became the series-clinching goal.
After the game, Alex Ovechkin had perhaps the best description of the play: "It's sick."
"It was a phenomenal game. It's the best I've seen us play," Holtby said.
Kuznetsov disagreed, but for a good reason. "It’s not our best game because our best game is coming soon."
MORE CAPITALS: Kuznetsov wins it for Caps