It took three tries, but the Washington Capitals finally did it.
After falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the last two postseasons, the Capitals were finally able to get past their Metro Division rivals with a 2-1 overtime win in Game 6 of their second-round series, earning a matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Washington forward Evgeny Kuznetsov played the role of hero, taking a breakaway pass from Alex Ovechkin and sliding the puck through Matt Murray’s legs at 5:27 of the fourth period, before breaking out his trademark eagle celebration.
“Finally,” Ovechkin said. “It’s been too long. Finally we beat Pittsburgh and finally we moved to the next round. We didn’t go home. We’re not going on vacation. We’re still battling.”
With the goal, the Capitals advance past the second round for the first time since a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998, and for the first time in Ovechkin’s career. In its 44-year existence as an NHL franchise, Washington has yet to win the whole thing.
Alex Chiasson opened the scoring at 2:13 the second period, depositing Nathan Walker’s feed from behind the net past Murray from in close. With that pass in his postseason debut, Walker became the first Australian player to score a playoff point. The Penguins answered nearly 10 minutes later with Kris Letang’s blast from the point off a face-off, which ended up finding the net behind Braden Holtby. It was all the offense either team would muster until Kuznetsov’s tally, with Holtby (21 saves) and Murray (28) standing tall amid flurries of late shots.
Despite their recent futility against the Penguins, the Capitals went into Monday’s game brimming with bravado: “The great thing about this is, all day, I knew we were going to win,” coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the victory.
The Capitals will take all the confidence they can get, needing four more wins to get past the Lightning and then another four to raise the Cup for the first time. After getting over the hump and exorcising its playoff demons, it might just be Washington’s time—finally.
PREDATORS 4, JETS 0
Before heading to Winnipeg for Game 6 on the wrong side of a 3-2 series, Predators defenseman P.K. Subban declared that his team would return to Nashville for a deciding Game 7. On Monday night in Winnipeg, the Preds followed through on the promise.
With its season on the brink following an ugly Game 5 loss, Nashville needed its big guns to lead the way, and they did: Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg scored a pair of goals apiece while goalie Pekka Rinne bounced back with a 33-save shutout, his second of the playoffs.
Arvidsson got the Predators on the board early in the first period, tipping a high shot from Roman Josi at the point just over a minute into the game. Forsberg added his sixth of the playoffs at 8:16 of the second after picking up a new stick from the bench and breaking in to beat goalie Connor Hellebuyck for a 2-0 score. The Swede wasn’t done adding to his highlight reel just yet, as he potted his second of the evening in spectacular fashion in the third period, taking a feed from Arvidsson below the goal line and putting the puck between his legs and flipping it past Hellebuyck
“[I] just try to get it off as quick as possible when I get it, and I guess that was the quickest way,” Forsberg told NBC’s Brian Boucher. “Just try to pull it through and surprise the goalie, and yeah, it worked.”
Arvidsson capped the scoring with an empty-netter at 15:58 in the third, a goal which touched off some frustration from the home team. Those bad feelings are sure to carry over to Game 7 on Thursday, the final game of the second round, with both teams vying for a Western Conference Final date with the Vegas Golden Knights.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
There wasn’t much of a question as to what the best moment of the night would be after Evgeny Kuznetsov provided much-needed relief to the long-suffering Capitals.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT, PART II
Filip Forsberg’s first goal on the night was pretty nice. His second one blew it out of the water.
1. Evgeny Kuznetsov, WSH — Big game, big moment, big goal. The eagle celly moves on to Round 3.
2. Filip Forsberg, NSH — One higlight-reel goal in an elimination game wasn’t enough and his second left Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck staring at the replay in wonder.
3. Pekka Rinne, NSH — For a guy who was yanked after allowing six goals in Game 5, Rinne was masterful in blanking the Jets on home ice for the first time all season.
The Ovechkin-era Capitals now find themselves in uncharted territory. While it will be a whole new brand of pressure for Washington, the team will get a boost in the form of Tom Wilson, who will be back in the lineup after serving a three-game suspension. In avoiding a Game 7, the Caps also get a chance to snag a little extra rest, good news for center Nicklas Backstrom, who missed Game 6 with an upper-body injury. Being back at full strength—or as close to it as possible—will be important as they’ll face a battle-tested Lightning team in the Eastern Conference Final. Tampa reeled off four straight wins to eliminate the Bruins, displaying some impressive defense in shutting down Boston’s formidable top line in the process. The Bolts are seeing impressive returns from their trade deadline acquisitions as defenseman Ryan McDonagh made several key plays and forward J.T. Miller carries a four-game point streak into the third round. Tampa Bay goalie and Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy rebounded after a sloppy opener against the Bruins, stopping 102 of 109 shots in the four games that followed, though Capitals netminder Braden Holtby has rediscovered his game after a tough stretch run.