Carolina rallied back to knock off the Capitals 4-3 in double overtime, becoming the fourth wild-card team to snag a spot in the second round.
It was the first round that would not end. It saw the Presidents’ Trophy winner exit first, quickly followed by the winner of two of the last three Stanley Cups. Along the way there were 10 overtime games, heated rivalries going the distance and the Canadian Stanley Cup drought reaching its 26th year. By the time Game 7 between Washington and Carolina rolled around, three division champs were ousted and three wild cards were locked in for Round 2.
All this opening round needed to continue the chaos was the elimination of the defending champs, and it was up to the team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in a decade to take care of it. In double overtime, no less.
It would be Brock McGinn who put an end to the first round. McGinn had already played hero for the Hurricanes when he dove across the crease to push out a loose puck and preserve a tied game at the end of regulation. He stepped up again 11:05 into the second overtime when he redirected a shot from Justin Williams past Braden Holtby and eliminated the final regular-season division champ with a 4–3 2OT Game 7 win, making it the first time in NHL history all four wild cards have moved on to the second round.
“That was unreal.... I don’t know how much we had in the tank but we were going to go as far as we could,” Williams told NBCSN’s Pierre McGuire on the broadcast. Williams, Mr. Game 7 himself, now has 15 points in nine Game 7 appearances, extending his NHL record.
The Capitals came out strong to start, as they had with each game played in D.C. this series, scoring two goals in the first 6:13 of the game. It seemed like the lead could grow even larger when Carolina’s Jordan Martinook was sent to the box for tripping. But Sebastian Aho had other plans, finding himself in the offensive zone, scooping up his own rebound and shooting right under Holtby’s outstretched leg for a shorthanded goal to cut the lead in half.
But Washington regained its two-goal lead with the return of the birdman celly as Evgeny Kuznetsov scored what would be his only goal of the postseason. The Hurricanes would not go away, however, with Teuvo Teravainen responding three minutes later.
After coming up even in each of the first two periods, Washington got off more shots in the third, outshooting the Canes 12–5. But Carolina got the one that mattered most in the frame. Playoff vet Jordan Staal tied the game early in the period as the Capitals went for a line change and went on the far side of Holtby, who left quite a bit of room for Staal.
After giving up three relatively easy goals in regulation, Holtby was holding things together while his team struggled to keep up with the jump Carolina was playing with, but complacency eventually seemed to take over for Washington.
The Hurricanes were the ones who came out dictating the pace in the first overtime, registering the first nine shots on net. Washington’s first shot didn’t come until halfway through, and that’s when the Capitals seemingly woke up. But they would manage just three more shots in the period, including a one-timer from Alex Ovechkin that went off Petr Mrazek’s mask and all the Great 8 could do was throw his head back and look to the heavens, presumably waiting for an answer from the hockey gods about when the end would come. He wouldn't get his answer until the second overtime.
Carolina got under Ovechkin’s skin in Game 6 and it wouldn’t have been surprising for the Washington captain to respond with a monstrous Game 7. It started looking that way early when he undressed Dougie Hamilton and toe-dragged around Jaccob Slavin to set up the Caps’ second goal, but none of Ovechkin’s four shots would find themselves past Mrazek.
A playoff reunion between Barry Trotz and his former team will have to wait at least another year, as it will be the Hurricanes taking on the Islanders, who have been waiting for their second-round opponent since sweeping the Penguins a week ago. Three Game 7s later, we are left without any Canadian teams nor division leaders but wild cards aplenty and the shreds of brackets that were ripped long ago. The anarchic opening round is finally complete, but really it’s all just getting started.