Many factors could decide Game 7 between the Islanders and Capitals, but a lucky bounce just may be the one.
Off The Draw
There was little to distinguish these Metropolitan Divison rivals, results-wise, during the regular season. Both ended up with 101 points. Both won a combined 40 games in regulation and overtime. Both were strong on the road, picking up 22 victories. They were so close that home ice for this game had to be decided by a count of points gained in head-to-head play, the NHL's third tiebreaker. The Caps earned the edge, 6-5, on the strength of a shootout win over the Isles on Feb. 21.
Maybe that will pay off for the Capitals tonight. Or not.
In fact, losing that game might have been the best thing that could have happened to the Islanders, at least if recent history counts for anything.
Six series went to a seventh game during last spring’s tournament. Five of them were won by the visiting team, though home clubs hold an all-time mark of 91-65.
Washington’s own history plays against it, too. The Caps are just 1-4 in Game 7s at Verizon Center, including a devastating 5–0 loss to the Rangers back on May 13, 2013.
So, advantage ... Isles?
Maybe experience will weigh more heavily on this one. After all, the ability to keep emotions in check under the intense pressure of a seventh game could be the difference between moving on and moving out.
There’s not much experience to be found in the Islanders’ room. The franchise hasn’t won a Game 7 since 1993, when David Volek ingrained himself in team lore with his overtime winner against Mario Lemieux’s two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
But three key newcomers have been in the pressure cooker and they have the t-shirt to prove it. Johnny Boychuk has been in seven Game 7s, including a Cup-clincher in Vancouver when he was playing for the Bruins back in 2011. Nick Leddy’s played in three. Jaroslav Halak has two on his resume.
That’s not much to build on, especially against a Capitals roster that’s loaded with veterans of Game 7s. (Coach Barry Trotz, however, is not one of them.) Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Karl Alzner, Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera ... those are key guys who have been to this well time and again. Granted, it hasn’t always gone well. Washington is just 2-5 in Game 7s in the Ovechkin-era. But there are lessons to be learned from defeat, and the core of this team can draw from a stirring OT win that knocked the defending champion Bruins from the playoffs back in 2012.
So, advantage ... Caps?
It could come down to momentum, which New York has after its stirring 3–1 win in Game 6 on Saturday. Advantage, Isles.
Or maybe the deciding factor will be health, which would be a problem for a New York team that is short three regular defensemen. The inexperience at the bottom end of his blueline was easier for coach Jack Capuano to mask when he had the last change at Nassau Coliseum. At Verizon, Trotz will be able to toss Ovechkin and Backstrom over the boards any time Matt Donovan or Scott Mayfield are on the ice for a face-off. If Washington can get in hard on the forecheck and get the cycle going against those two, it'll be advantage, Caps.
Or goaltending could be the key. Halak is 6-1 in elimination games during his career, including 4-0 against the Caps, with only 12 goals allowed. Braden Holtby is 1-2 in Game 7s, but has been dynamite in this series, allowing just six goals during the last four games for a save percentage of .957.
Or it could come down to a bounce. Hey, it's Game 7. A best-of-one. Anything could happen.
The numbers game
• Eight of the Capitals’ 10 playoff series since 2008 have required a Game 7. They went 2-6 in those games. Their all-time record in such contests is 3-9.
• The team that scores first in a Game 7 is 115-41 all time.
• In moving on to the second round, the Canadiens became the first team to shut out Ottawa this season. Montreal's Carey Price is now the fourth goalie since the first expansion season (1967-68) to make at least 43 saves in a regulation playoff shutout. The others: Glen Hanlon of the Rangers (45 in Game 2 of the 1984 division semifinals vs. the Islanders), Curtis Joseph of the Blues (47 in Game 2 of the 1993 division semifinals vs. the Blackhawks) and Martin Brodeur of the Devils (44 in Game 5 of 2009 conference quarterfinals vs. the Hurricanes).
• Dave Stubbs explains why it was fitting that a baseball swing knocked the Canadiens into the second round.
• Can Google be used to predict ticket sales in an expansion market? One stat geek says future success is in the searches.
• Former NHL goaltender Don Edwards is battling to prevent the man who murdered his parents from leaving prison.
• The Flames are prepared to pay a big price when they face off against in the Ducks in the second round.