WASHINGTON — Unburdened by the catastrophes of past Game 7s littering the Washington Capitals’ playoff history, rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov delivered a breathtaking, series-clinching goal that got Alex Ovechkin’s seal of approval.
“Pretty sick,” Ovechkin declared.
Skating around every opponent on the ice as he swooped across from the right boards, past the slot and waited, waited, waited for the right moment to lift a rising shot over sprawling goalie Jaroslav Halak, Kuznetsov scored the go-ahead goal with 7:18 remaining, and Braden Holtby only needed to make 10 saves Monday night, leading the Capitals to a 2-1 victory that eliminated the New York Islanders in the first round.
“If you’ve never played hockey,” Kuznetsov said, “you’ll never feel this.”
Joel Ward gave Washington a 1-0 lead late in the second period, and Frans Nielsen pulled New York even early in the third.
The Capitals now face the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers, who eliminated Washington from the 2012 and 2013 playoffs — in Game 7 each time.
That’s part of a long history of postseason failures for the Capitals, including never advancing beyond the second round since Ovechkin arrived and began earning MVP trophies and leading the NHL in goals year after year.
This was the eighth time in 10 playoff series involving Ovechkin that went to a Game 7, and his team was only 2-5 in such contests until Monday.
The Islanders’ loss ends their playing days at Nassau Coliseum, which opened in 1972. The team is moving to Brooklyn next season.
This was the first Game 7 of this year’s NHL playoffs, fittingly. Through the first six games, each team scored 14 goals. Each won on the road. Each won in overtime. During the regular season, both finished with 101 standings points.
Thumbnail photo via Nick Wass/Associated Press