Big Players, Big Goals, Big Games – Caps center Sergei Fedorov played in the 176th Stanley Cup playoff game of his NHL career on Tuesday. He is now one game shy of matching Hockey Hall of Famer Al MacInnis for 25th on the league’s all-time list in that department.
Thanks to his game-winning goal that gave the Caps a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, Fedorov won’t have to wait beyond this playoff season to catch MacInnis.
Fedorov snapped a sharp wrist shot over the catching glove of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist at 15:01 of the third period tonight to give the Caps the lead, the victory and the series. The goal was 52nd of his playoff career, and the 172nd point of his Stanley Cup playoff career. He has six career points (three goals, three assists) in eight career Game 7s.
“It was just a regular break out,” says Fedorov in describing his game-winner. “It was two-on-two in their zone. Not much else going on, so I decided to shoot the puck. I stopped and I did it and it went in top corner short side. I didn’t think too much about it. Entering the zone, make sure the puck went deep. The D[efense] gave me some room, when I stopped so I choose to shoot. I knew the D[efense] was giving me short side. I shot it top shelf.”
Top shelf, short side. That’s where the Caps began exploiting Lundqvist in Sunday’s Game 6 at Madison Square Garden. Fedorov, who had clanged a few shots off the post earlier in the series, picked his spot and hit it tonight.
Fedorov is now tied with Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux for 15th place on the league’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fedorov now has 12 game-winning goals in Stanley Cup playoff competition, tied for 17th on the NHL’s all-time list in that department.
From Russia, With Glove – He celebrated his 21st birthday a day before standing between the pipes for the Capitals in Tuesday’s deciding Game 7. That deciding game was his sixth game of the playoffs, as many as he played during the regular season.
Caps goaltender Simeon Varlamov was the story of the series, taking over in the Washington nets from Jose Theodore after New York’s Game 1 win. Varlamov was 4-2 with a 1.17 GAA and a .952 save pct. in the series against the Rangers.
Varlamov is second in the NHL in playoff GAA and third in save pct. He is tied for the league lead with two shutouts.
21 – Washington became just the 21st team in league history (in 230 occasions, 9.1%) to rebound from a 3-1 series deficit to win a series. The Caps also became the 38th team in 292 instances (13%) to win a series after falling behind 2-0.
Tuesday’s triumph was the Caps’ first ever in a Game 7 at Verizon Center, and it was just the second Game 7 win in franchise history and the first in 21 years. The Caps are now 2-5 in Game 7s during their history.
The Capitals are now 6-1 when facing elimination in the last two seasons, including the final game of the 2007-08 regular season.
Stonewalled – Washington limited the Rangers to just 15 shots on goal in Tuesday’s deciding Game 7. Only one of those shots came in the third period.
The Caps held the Rangers to just 23.7 shots on goal per game in the series, the fewest of the 16 first-round playoff teams.
Caps blueliner Milan Jurcina was one of several unheralded blueline heroes for Washington in Game 7. He skated 21:25, was a plus-2 and led all players on both sides with seven hits. He also blocked two shots.
Start Spreading The News – Washington has now taken three of the five postseason series between the Capitals and the Rangers.
With tonight’s Game 7 loss, the Rangers have hairballed a 3-1 series lead for the first time in their franchise history. Tuesday’s game was the first Game 7 for the Rangers since they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 1994. That gave New York its first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years.
Caps general manager George McPhee was the assistant general manager for the Canucks in those days.
Flat Stanley – In its biggest game of the season and its biggest game in more than a year, Washington came out on the flat side. It gave up two scoring chances in the first minute of the game, and only a stellar save from Varlamov on a Nik Antropov breakaway bid kept the game scoreless.
Varlamov’s early stops did not serve as a wake-up call for his elder teammates. Washington had no sustained puck possession, no shots on goal, and few battles won in corners for pucks.
The Capitals’ first shot on goal came 13 minutes into the first period. The first period was arguably Washington’s worst period of the series, and might have been New York’s best.
Way back in Game 1, the Caps dominated the first period but New York escaped that period 0-0, which had to feel like a win. The Rangers were able to rebound and take the game, 4-3. The Rangers outplayed the Caps for the first 40 minutes tonight, but Washington was able to keep the score knotted and limit New York’s scoring chances.
Tight Ones Are Tough – Since winning Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals in overtime on Joé Juneau’s goal nearly 11 years ago, Washington has had difficulty winning tight games in the playoffs.
Even after Tuesday’s one-goal win in Game 7 over New York, the Caps are 6-17 – including 1-3 in their just-completed series with the Rangers – in one-goal games in the playoffs since ousting Buffalo in 1998. Washington is 1-7 in Stanley Cup playoff overtime games since Juneau’s goal.
Postseason Woes No More – It had been 11 years since Washington last won a playoff series, easily the longest such drought in franchise history. The Caps had lost five straight series in that span, and they are now 12-23 in the 35 playoff games since Juneau’s overtime goal that beat Buffalo for the Eastern Conference championship on June 4, 1998.
Fortuitous Tally – For the second game in a row, the Caps benefited from numbers provided when a skater exited the penalty box. Mike Green exited the penalty box after serving the Caps’ lone minor of the night and joined Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin on the rush. Semin fired a shot that ramped up a Rangers’ player’s stick, changed directions a couple of times and fluttered past a helpless Lundqvist to even the score at 1-1 late in the first period.
It was the second of only two Caps shots on goal in the first, and the hockey equivalent of a shot from the grassy knoll.
No Mo – Seconds after the Caps tied the game on Semin’s first period strike, any momentum gained from the goal went by the wayside when a pane of glass behind the New York net had to be replaced. The resulting delay lasted more than five minutes.
2:42 – That’s how long into the second period it took the Caps to exceed the number of shots they fired on goal in the first frame (two).
Leaders – Semin’s goal was his fifth of the postseason. He is tied with Carolina’s Eric Staal for the league lead in that department. Semin’s eight points are tied for second in the NHL.
Backstrom assisted on Semin’s goal, his seventh helper of the postseason. He leads the NHL in that category. Tom Poti’s six points (two goals, four assists) are tied for the league lead among defensemen.
No Overtime – The series between the Caps and the Rangers was Washington’s first series that did not have a single overtime game since it ousted the Ottawa Senators in five regulation games in the 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinals Series.
Familiar Foe – With Blair Betts out of the lineup, New York recalled center Artem Anisimov from Hartford of the AHL. Anisimov was a teammate of Varlamov’s when both players were with Yaroslavl of the Russian Super League. Earlier this season, Anisimov victimized his former teammate when he beat Varlamov for a goal while the latter was playing for the AHL Hershey Bears.
Biggest Fear Averted – If you’re a Caps fan, your biggest fear coming into Game 7 is that the New York Rangers had somehow won three of the first six games of the set without having played anywhere near their best hockey. They dusted off their best game tonight, and it was enough to keep the game within a goal all night.
“For most of the game I thought we did a really good job of keeping the puck,” says Rangers coach John Tortorella. “It was probably the most we kept the puck all series. We couldn’t develop good scoring chances even with the puck and during the [third] period I think they turned it up a notch and we ended up backing up a little bit and they had the puck more than we did. It was still a game to be had. Who makes the next big play. They did, we didn’t. They win the game.”
“I think we played our best game of the series tonight,” says Lundqvist. “We did a great job and had a good feeling going into the third. Out of seven games maybe they were the better team. I still think we did a great job tonight. We should be proud of the way we responded in game seven.”
New York pushed the series to seven games, largely because of some stellar play from Lundqvist early in the series. But New York's best game as a team wasn't quite enough to snatch the series from the Capitals.