Washington hadn’t exactly seen a lot of Game Seven success prior to Monday night. Since the arrival of Alex Ovechkin, they’ve played in seven of them. They’d only won two. And since 2008, they were 1-4 in Game Sevens at home.
“I think the reason we lost those Game Sevens was that we weren’t desperate enough,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “We came out hungrier tonight. We were quick. We wanted to win. I think you can tell that watching the game too. The last few years when we lost Game Sevens, we came out a little flat. But not tonight.”
Not tonight indeed. The Capitals stifled the Islanders, who were packing a hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak. New York’s netminder was 4-0 against Washington when his team was up for elimination. But on this Monday night, the Caps had other plans.
“They had 11 shots. That says it all right there,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “We stayed in the game plan, and 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. But if it was good enough, then we’ll get a chance to move on.”
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby made just 10 saves in the effort, with Frans Nielsen scoring the only Islanders goal just over three minutes into the third period to tie the game at one. Rookie forward Evgeny Kuznetsov would eventually score the winner for the Capitals at 12:42 of the third and that was that for Long Island.
Holtby had been stellar for his team, posting a 1.63 goals against average and a .943 save percentage. He saw 176 shots in the seven game series and only allowed 10 goals.
Nicklas Backstrom led the way in scoring for Washington in the series. He had six points, including three goals. Alex Ovechkin was also a factor with five points in seven games, including a team-leading 28 shots on goal. Winger Jason Chimera had four points, while Joel Ward scored in Game Seven for a total of four series points.
Washington’s team effort on Monday kept the likes of John Tavares from even having a shot on goal. The Islanders had gone 22 years without a playoff series win and will have to leave the Nassau Coliseum with that in mind. Perhaps that led to some tentativeness.
“It just seemed like we didn’t want to make a mistake,” said Tavares. “In all three zones, we just weren’t aggressive enough in the first two periods. But in saying that, we were 1-1 with 10 minutes to go. You have to make some plays down the stretch. We had some chances. Obviously we didn’t make enough. They got the goal and we didn’t.”
Jaroslav Halak was solid in goal for the Islanders, but Tavares is right: when you’re not getting chances, you’re not going to get the goals. Plainly put, New York was shut out of winning this game and this series by a superior defensive effort. And that could spell big trouble for the Rangers.
The Capitals were able to hold the Islanders to a 0-14 record on the power play and they also shut down New York’s blueline scoring, tapping out two significant areas of offensive production from their opposition. Tavares was still good for six points in seven games, but it still wasn’t enough to push his team over the edge.