Home Away From Home – From March 10 onward, the Boston Bruins won a total of five games at their Beantown home, TD Garden.
That’s the same number of games the Washington Capitals won in the same building over the same time span.
Joel Ward’s goal at 2:57 of overtime gave the Caps a 2-1 win in the deciding Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Capitals and the Bruins on Wednesday night in Boston.
The win was Washington’s fifth in six tries in a span of 47 days in Boston.
Mike Knuble collected an errant dump-in attempt from Bruins forward Benoit Pouliot as the home team went for a change. Knuble then tore through the neutral zone with Ward on a 2-on-1 break, and backhanded a shot on Boston netminder Tim Thomas. Thomas made the initial stop, but Ward tucked the rebound into a small, short-side opening to end the series, dethroning the defending Stanley Cup champions and sending the Capitals on to the second round against an as-yet-to-be-identified foe.
“It hit me right in the shins,” says Knuble of Pouliot’s dump-in attempt. “I knew they were all going for a change. Ward wasn’t going to get the pass. I was going right to the crease with that one. I’m glad he added the finish there at the end.”
“I went for a change,” says Ward, “and Knubs made a big block there and I assumed we had a little bit of a break up ice so try to take a chance and I knew he was going to take it to the rack and I just tried to follow it up as best as I could. You know, I just saw the puck laying there and I just took a whack at it and it went in.”
“We went to dump it in, Pouliot went to dump it in,” says Bruins coach Claude Julien of the game-winning goal, “and he hit one of their players with the puck, and it just bounced out. That puck gets in deep, we’re making a line change, and we’re making a good line change but when it hit their player and bounced out, that’s when things kind of turned sour on us, and we weren’t able to recover.”
Talk about unlikely heroes. Knuble (9:33 in ice time on the night) and Ward (10:44) had the lowest ice time totals of any Capitals on the night. Both were healthy scratches for several games down the stretch in late March and early April, and the two finished the season with identical stat lines of six goals and 18 points, Knuble in 72 games and Ward in 73.
“It’s what hockey’s all about,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “Winning in overtime in the seventh game. That’s something special, and well-deserved by our guys.”
For Ward, the goal was his first since Feb. 24. That Feb. 24 goal was an empty-netter, so Wednesday’s overtime series winner was his first goal with a goaltender in the net since Jan. 7.
Knuble was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the series. He was inserted into the Washington lineup in Game 4, and only because Caps center Nicklas Backstrom was suspended for that game because of a cross-check to the visor of Boston forward Rich Peverley at the final buzzer of regulation in Game 3.
Had Backstrom not been suspended, Knuble might not have been in the lineup and might not have been playing alongside Ward and Keith Aucoin.
And the series might have had a different outcome altogether.
Game Seven Overtime – Ward joins Hunter as one of only two players ever to score a game-winning goal in overtime of Game Seven in a Washington sweater. Hunter’s moment came on April 16, 1988 when he went five-hole on Philadelphia’s Ron Hextall to send the Caps to a Game Seven victory.
Thursday night’s win raises Washington’s all-time franchise record in Game Sevens to 3-7.
One More From The Road – Washington had the worst 2011-12 road record (16-21-4) of any of the 16 Stanley Cup playoff entrants. But the Capitals won three of the four road games they played to move on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Tonight’s series win in an enemy building was Washington’s first since June 4, 1998 when Joé Juneau’s overtime goal pushed the Caps past the Buffalo Sabres in six games in the Eastern Conference final series and delivered Washington to the lone Stanley Cup final appearance in its 37-year franchise history.
Like Ward’s goal, Juneau’s was a rebound follow-up that beat a pretty good goaltender (Dominik Hasek) who happened to have won the Vezina Trophy the year before.
The Kid’s All Right – Caps goaltender Braden Holtby stopped 31 of 32 shots in Game 7 to win his first playoff series, besting the defending Vezina Trophy winner and Conn Smythe winner in the process.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Holtby is just the fourth rookie goaltender in NHL history to win a Game 7 on the road, and the first to do so since Toronto’s Felix Potvin in 1993. Holtby is also just the third rookie goaltender in league history to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions in a seven-game series, joining Calgary’s Mike Vernon (1986) and Montreal’s Ken Dryden (1971) on that short list.
Pressed into service when both Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth were sidelined with injuries at the start of the series, Holtby limited the Bruins to just 15 goals in the seven games. He finished the series with a 2.00 GAA and a .940 save pct.
Appearing in his first ever Stanley Cup playoff series, the 22-year-old Holtby played with the poise and composure of a seasoned veteran.
“If I got rattled I wouldn’t be here right now,” says Holtby. “It’s one of those things that I’ve learned in order to get to this level. I’ve had to work on it and get better at it and obviously it has paid off.”
Forty-one years ago this month, a veritable unknown 23-year-old netminder with a total of six games worth of regular season NHL experience came out of nowhere and stunned the Big Bad Bruins – who had set an NHL record with 399 regular season goals – in a seven-game first-round series. That stunned Bruins team was also a defending Stanley Cup champion club.
That goaltender was Montreal’s Ken Dryden, and now Holtby is hearing his named mentioned in that lofty company.
“Holtsy is a unique kid,” says Hunter, “[in] that nothing fazes him. He’s a battler, you know whatever he does he’s going to try his best, and he gets rewarded for it, because he is. And he’s got great character, and the guys love him. When you call your goalie in net like a warrior, he’s one of the guys like that.”
Asked if he thought he’d someday look back on this series and be thankful he was a part of it, Holtby had the perfect response.
“If we win the next three [series] it will be.”
Kid Stuff – Holtby becomes – along with Semyon Varlamov (2009) and Michal Neuvirth (2011) – the third rookie Caps goalie in four seasons to lead the team to a Stanley Cup series win. Each of Washington’s last 18 Stanley Cup playoff wins has been delivered by a rookie goaltender.
Heroes – The heroes were many for the Capitals tonight. As is almost always the case in important wins, it was truly a team effort. But a few should be singled out.
Holtby was again strong and solid in net, keeping things close and never allowing the Bruins to get a two-goal lead at any point in the seven games. The Bruins were 38-0-0 in games in which they led by two goals at any point in the contest during the regular season. The fact that Holtby and the Caps were able to go through seven games without falling as many as two goals behind the defending champions is truly remarkable.
Foot soldiers Ward, Knuble and Matt Hendricks deserve kudos for supplying the offense in a game – and series – in which offense was particularly difficult to come by.
Ward and Knuble are a couple of the most genuine and well-liked guys in the Washington room, and they both battled through more than their share of adversity during the season. It was great to see them get rewarded at the end of the series.
Hendricks’ first-period goal was his first since March 10 when he scored against Thomas in Boston. It was also the first Stanley Cup playoff goal and point of his NHL career.
And finally, don’t sleep on the standout defensive play of Karl Alzner that came just prior to Ward’s game-winner. Alzner splayed out to prevent Patrice Bergeron from ending the game and Washington’s season just prior to Ward’s game-winner.
Much was said and written about Boston’s shutdown duo of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg during this series, and deservedly so. They comprise one of the best such tandems in all of the NHL. But Alzner and partner John Carlson each had a tremendous series of shutdown duty against a Bruins bunch that is a handful in any one game, let alone seven hard-fought, tightly played tilts.
Special Delivery – Washington’s penalty killing unit deserves mad props for pushing the Capitals into the second round, but it was really at the top of its game tonight in Game 7.
And it needed to be.
Boston had only three power play chances on the night (to one for Washington), but the Bruins got two of those extra-man opportunities in the third period with the game even at 1-1. The second of those opportunities came with just 2:26 in regulation when Caps left wing Jason Chimera was whistled for a holding call on Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
“When you talk about tonight,” says Julien, “that’s probably the most frustrating part of our game, was that power play that could have ended the series and the game.
“But, I guess, when you look at the whole picture, I think it was more than that. At the end of the series, you look at their team, and you look at ours, and they were the better team. They had more guys going than we did, and they played us tough. It was unfortunate that we’ve got to look at this one incident because it did play a big role in tonight, but a lot of the damage had been done before that as well.”
Washington killed off 21 of 23 Boston power plays in the series for a kill rate of 91.3%, second only to Phoenix (94.7%) in the playoffs to date.
The Capitals won six of eight face-offs (75%) while shorthanded in Game 7. Boston was limited to just four shots on net during the six minutes in which it enjoyed the manpower advantage.
The King Is Dead – For the first time in five tries in its 37-year history, the Capitals have dethroned a defending Stanley Cup champion in the following year’s playoffs.
Tonight marks the seventh time in the last nine seasons that the defending Stanley Cup champions have exited in the first round of the playoffs.
Razor Thin – Your faithful Caps365 correspondent believes he – and likely most of you – won’t live long enough to see another Stanley Cup playoff series played this tightly again.
(Unless of course, it’s St. Louis and Los Angeles in the upcoming Western Conference semifinals.)
For the first time in Stanley Cup playoff history, all seven games of a series were decided by a single goal. Four games – the first two and the last two – went into overtime.
A total of 450 minutes and 28 seconds of hockey were played in this series. And for 308 minutes and 47 seconds of that time, the score was tied. That represents more than two-thirds of the entire series.
The Caps had the only two-goal lead of the entire seven-game set. It came in Game 5, and it lasted all of 2:54.
“Well, no doubt, it’s made it an interesting series,” says Julien of the closeness of the seven games. “I think when people watch these kind of games, and our games went into overtime and stuff like that, but again, I don’t know why people would even think that it would have been one-sided.
“When you look at their team, and I mentioned numerous times, I don’t believe they’re a seventh place team. There’s too much talent on that team to be that, and they righted the ship at the right time, and they’re playing some great hockey right now, and that’s what it seems to be all about in the playoffs nowadays.
“When you look at the teams that have been knocked out, it’s whoever’s playing their best hockey at the right time, and the parity shows, and then the team that’s on top of their games seems to be winning the series right now.”
The Longest Lead – From the time Hendricks scored at 11:23 of the first period until Tyler Seguin’s tying tally for the Bruins at 14:27 of the second period, the Caps held a lead for 23:04. That represents the longest either team held onto any lead at any point in the entire series.
Alternating Tallies – The Capitals and Bruins combined for a total of just 31 goals in the seven games, 16 by Washington and 15 by Boston. The last 13 of those 31 goals were scored in alternating fashion, one by Boston and one by Washington, right up to the end of the series. The Bruins scored twice in a span of 28 seconds late in the second period of Game 5. The second of those two goals – from forward Brad Marchand – started the sequence of 13 alternating goals from the two teams.
Been There Before – Half of Washington’s franchise total of 10 Game Sevens has been played in the last five springs. The Caps’ current core is now 2-3 in the five Game Sevens in which they’ve played together, starting with the loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Streak Stopped – Hendricks’ goal ended Thomas’ Game 7 shutout streak at 139:03. Thomas had pitched consecutive Game 7 shutouts – against Vancouver and Tampa Bay last spring – prior to Wednesday’s series finale.
Star In The Making – Sophomore Bruins forward Tyler Seguin was quiet early in the series but he came on late and was quite a handful for the Capitals to contend with in the final two games.
Seguin scored the overtime game-winner in Game 6 that forced the series back to Boston and he also supplied the Bruins’ lone tally of Game 7. Seguin led the Bruins with seven shots on goal in Wednesday’s series finale.
Over the final 74:17 of the series, Seguin was the only Bruins to solve Holtby.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears were in action on Wednesday night at Giant Center, attempting to stave off elimination in their best-of-five, first-round Calder Cup series with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Hershey got it done, needing overtime to take a 4-3 decision over the Baby Pens and force a Game 4 on Friday night at Giant Center. Ryan Potulny scored at 2:57 of the extra session – the exact same time at which Ward’s overtime game-winner was scored – to keep the Bears’ season alive.
D.J. King scored his first goal as a member of the Capitals’ organization, and Cameron Schilling netted the first goal of his pro career for the Bears. Kyle Greentree also scored for Hershey. Dany Sabourin made 26 saves in goal to earn the victory.
With Wednesday’s win, Hershey avoided being swept in the first round in a best-of-five set for the first time since 1966.
By The Numbers – Mike Green led the Caps with 24:55 in ice time … Alzner skated 3:57 of the six minutes in which Washington was shorthanded on the night to lead the team … Chimera, Hendricks, Ward and Roman Hamrlik led the Caps with three shots on goal each … Hendricks paced the Caps with six hits … Carlson led the way with five blocked shots … Jay Beagle won seven of 10 (70%) face-offs to lead the Capitals.