September 21, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 7 Review: Kuznetsov’s late tally wins Game 7 over Islanders

The puck at his stick along the boards next to the right circle in the New York zone, Evgeny Kuznetsov smoothly drove to the right of Jaroslav Halak, waiting for just the right second when the old Washington nemesis committed a bit too much.

What resulted was a cacophony of sound that physically shook the upper deck of Verizon Center and a highlight-reel moment which lifted demons that had plagued the Capitals franchise for nearly three decades.

The young Russian’s winner was the deciding marker in a 2-1 win for Washington over the Islanders in Game 7 on Monday night, a night that the long-suffering DC sports fans in attendance will not soon forget.

A dominant first period with tilted ice in Washington’s favor was a proper omen for the rest of the night, with unbroken Islander opportunities coming few and far between. Well over a dozen shots got to Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak in the first 40 minutes, most of which the Slovak netminder saw.

After playing 38 minutes and 35 seconds of scoreless hockey and in the team’s 20th shot on net, Joel Ward redirected a Brooks Orpik slapshot from the point and the puck trickled past Halak. It gave the standing-room-only crowd in attendance an excuse to release the pent-up energy they’d largely held on to for the hour and a half since the puck dropped. Word is that searchers are looking for the Verizon Center roof after it landed in the Tidal Basin; the building’s volume at that point was measured at 119 decibels.

A rare gaffe from Braden Holtby a little over three minutes into the third period knotted the score after Frans Nielsen’s shot trickled through Holtby’s leg pads, but it failed to change the overall dynamic of the game. Washington maintained pressure after the equalizer, and was rewarded with seven minutes and 18 seconds left in the contest.

Kuznetsov came up with the puck along the hash mark next to the board, turned and flew around a pair of desperate Islanders trying to break up the play as they had a number of times before on the night. Waiting until Halak was down and virtually helpless, the 22-year-old made a play well-suited to someone that had spent a decade in the NHL, lifting the puck far-side under the crossbar and causing a calamitous scene from the nosebleeds to the owner’s box. “I see the room and just go to the net and wait, and Jaro is down and I just put puck in the net,” Kuznetsov said calmly amid the ruckus of the winning locker room.

Screenshot from CSNWashington.com

Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis celebrating a second series win in as many nights for his two most recognizable franchises. Screenshot from CSNWashington.com.

Even after joining Dale Hunter, Sergei Fedorov and Ward as Game 7 heroes for the Capitals, the ever-selfless Kuznetsov was quick to credit his team for the win and advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2012.

“I don’t care about my points. I care about go to next round. That’s very important to me … I want to play team hockey. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

The lone penalty of the night was called on John Carlson with 2:54 left for roughing. Needing their 14th penalty kill of the series more than few others in franchise history, the man-down unit produced one final time for Capitals assistant coach Lane Lambert, who head coach Barry Trotz credited afterward for the team’s flawless penalty killing efforts over seven games.

Troy Brouwer’s clear with about a minute left in the Islander power play resulted in a din that lasted through what little time was left in the game. When the horn sounded, the thousands of red-clad fans in attendance shouted and screamed in celebration of the first Game 7 home-ice win since 2009 after losing three straight of those games. As t-shirts fell from the rafters to a few lucky (and attentive) fans, demons were lifted from a franchise that wanted Monday’s win in a way that only those associated with the team might understand.

The still-talked-about Easter Epic, the four-overtime Game 7 win for the Islanders at the Capital Centre in 1987, is officially in the past. A hex on Game 7 chances for a team that had inexplicably been 2-5 in such situations (including a dismal 1-4 at home) since playoff hockey returned to the nation’s capital in 2008 was disabled, though the permanence of its departure is yet to be fully determined. Halak changed the course of the franchise after stopping 131 of 134 shots in the final three games of the first-round series between Montreal and Washington five years ago, and his name was tantamount to a swear word in the District over that time. Though only a first-round win, perhaps even the memories of being on the losing end of one of the biggest upsets in Stanley Cup playoff history will begin to fade.

Yet again they were on the verge of losing a series that they had a prior opportunity to seal. History said that they were slated to discover a new way to break Capitals fans’ hearts yet again on Monday. Indeed, the Islanders mustered a paltry 11 shots on net, only three coming from their forwards. To lose after allowing the fewest-ever shots on goal in a seventh game in league history would have been an especially bitter pill for the Washington faithful to swallow.

However, a pair of gentlemen new to the District and the team’s less-than-stellar fortunes – Trotz and Kuznetsov – made sure that Monday’s ride home on the Metro would not resemble an evening at the local morgue.

CAPS NOTES

  • As far as the little matter of the second round is concerned, Washington will play the Rangers for the fifth time in seven seasons (six playoffs) starting later this week. Dates, times and television coverage are all yet to be determined.
  • Kuznetsov is the first rookie to score a series-winning goal in Game 7 since Adam Henrique of New Jersey in 2012 against Florida. He’s the first to do so in Capitals history.
  • Though Halak deserves a world of credit for nearly knocking off a higher-seeded Capitals team again, his save percentage trailed Holtby’s for the series – .939 to Holtby’s .943.
  • For the first time in city history, the Capitals and Wizards are in the second round of their respective playoffs at the same time.
  • Quote of the night goes to Barry Trotz, who talked about a changing tide in DC sports:

I was trying to get the word out that this is a new group. We always look at the past, and what I think we need to do in Washington, D.C. sports … we need to have positive attitudes. This is a new era for basketball and hockey and the baseball team, and we’re getting that football team straightened away. And we’ll go from there. It’s gonna be contagious, and I’m telling ya, it’ll affect all the sports. We’re looking to be one of those cities where all our sports teams are competing against each other, competing for championships and that’s what we want to do, we want to build great organizations. We’ve got a great owner here who wants to do that, so I’m saying [to] all the fans [about] all that old stuff, get rid of it. Let’s look to a new era, let’s build something, and we can feel the energy. We weren’t going to let that game go, even when we got scored on. The fans have a big effect on the opposition, they have a big effect on our bench. When you’re tired and there’s the last TV timeout and people are yelling and screaming and it’s crazy in there, no player wants to lose. It just gives you that little boost of energy and hopefully it cracks the other team’s will and that’s what we want to establish here. They helped us along tonight.

And yes, that line about the Redskins drew a big round of laughter from the press contingent in the room.

About Eric Hobeck

Eric Hobeck is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Redskins and Capitals. Eric contributes to high school sports coverage at InsideNova.com. He served as sports editor of The Rotunda at Longwood University for two years, where he was also the men’s basketball beat writer. He hosted a campus radio show for three years and called basketball and baseball games for the station’s award-winning sports team. You can follow Eric on Twitter @eric_hobeck.

Trackbacks

  1. […] …Bleacher ReportMonday's best: Caps top Isles in Game 7; Bolts stay aliveFOXSports.comDistrict Sports Page -Los Angeles Times -The Spokesman Reviewall 1,129 news […]

  2. […] securing a Game 7 win over the Islanders in the first round two weeks ago, head coach Barry Trotz spoke at length about the win signaling a changing of the guard in the […]

%d bloggers like this: