Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stops a shot by Washington's Troy Brouwer Sunday in Game 6 of New York's second-round series with the Capitals. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The Washington Capitals have already made it through one Game 7, but they’ll have to do it all over again if they hope to get past the New York Rangers. The masked men between the pipes may have a lot to say about who wins the series, though.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, no two teams have faced off against each other in more Game 7s than the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.
Three times in the past ten post-seasons the two clubs have gone head-to-head in a one-game, winner-takes-all contest, and Wednesday night the clubs will get their fourth go-round at playing in a Game 7 against each other.
If the Rangers emerge victorious it will be the third time post-lockout they’ve dropped the Capitals in seven games, while Washington will be looking to avenge the 5-0 Game 7 loss they were handed by New York in 2013. As is the case with every seventh game in NHL history, there is always one hero, a player who steps up and puts his team on his shoulders and propels them to victory.
Already winners of one Game 7 this post-season, the Capitals won thanks to late-game heroics by Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first round against the New York Islanders. Now taking on the Islanders’ crosstown rival Rangers, they’re going to need someone else to step up if Barry Trotz wants to head to his first career conference final. Regardless of the outcome, though, there will be a hero. Here are five potential candidates:
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
As if the stage wasn’t set well enough by virtue of Wednesday evening’s game being Game 7 between the Capitals and Rangers, Ovechkin had to go ahead and state his belief that his club would pull off the victory. While truthfully it wasn’t quite as much a guarantee as Mark Messier’s bold statement about the Rangers in 1994-95, it still stands as a bit of fuel to add to an already raging fire inside Ovechkin.
Problem is, Ovechkin hasn’t scored in his past four games, nor has he found the score sheet. But – and this should be obvious – there are few players in the game as lethal with even the most meager of chances. If the Rangers aren’t on Ovechkin from start to finish, he’s going to burn them.
In the Capitals’ first Game 7 of the post-season, Ovechkin came up with an assist. If he finds the back of the net or can create something off the rush, the likelihood the Capitals walk away victorious increases exponentially.
Game 7 statistics: 7 GP, 2G, 2A; Record: 3-4
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
During the regular season, Lundqvist only suited up for 46 games and notched five shutouts. That’s one shutout for every 9.3 games played. Consider that the Rangers have played 11 games this post-season and ‘King Henrik’ has yet to register a blank slate and you have reason to believe he might be saving his best work for the most important game of the Rangers’ season to this point.
Even including the games the Rangers have lost this post-season, of which there have been four, Lundqvist has only posted a sub-.930 save percentage in one contest. That was in the second game of the playoffs. Since that contest, in which he allowed four goals on 22 shots, Lundqvist has only allowed two or more goals once in his next nine games. That was Game 6, which the Rangers won. It’s going to be tough for the Capitals to repeat that feat.
Game 7 statistics: 6GP, 1.00 GAA, .964 SP, 1 shutout; Record: 5-1
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Which leads us to Holtby. Game 7 could very well boil down to a goaltending duel and if you think for a second the Capitals are uncomfortable leaving the game in the hands of Holtby in a one-game showdown, you haven’t been paying attention.
Aside from Kuznetsov outright saying he believes Holtby is a better goaltender than Lundqvist, there’s also the fact that over the course of the post-season, no goaltender has a better save percentage than Holtby and only one netminder – Lundqvist – has a better goals-against average than Holtby, and even that is by a mere .03.
Holtby has already shutout the Rangers’ offense once in the series, stopping all 30 pucks he faced in Game 3. If he can manage a similar outing Wednesday, the Rangers are going to be in trouble.
Game 7 statistics: 1 GP, 1.00 GAA, .909 SP; Record: 1-0
Derick Brassard, New York Rangers
Not Rick Nash, not Martin St-Louis, but Brassard is who the Rangers should turn to with everything on the line. When it comes to Game 7 heroes, no one over the past several seasons has come through as big as Brassard.
In his career, he has played in three Game 7s and he’s skated away with three points, all assists. Currently the leadings scorer for the Rangers as they look to charge all the way back to their second consecutive Stanley Cup final, Brassard is having the best offensive season of his career and it has carried over to the post-season.
He’s yet to score in a Game 7 in his career, but with five goals and eight points in 11 playoff games thus far, pick Brassard, not Nash, as the Rangers key scorer.
Game 7 statistics: 3 GP, 0G, 3A; Record: 3-0
Joel Ward, Washington Capitals
If it wasn’t for one of Ward’s disallowed goals during Game 5, this series might not have even seen a seventh game. So, as sports and storylines somehow always tend to go, it will somehow be Ward who finds himself on the score sheet in Game 7 and making a difference if the Capitals are destined to move on.
Statistically speaking, Ward is having one of the most productive post-seasons of his career, and he showed up in a big way in Game 6 when the Capitals were in the midst of their comeback. With one goal and three points in Game 6, Ward has shown he can be a big problem for the Rangers defense. Should he continue to play the way he has, Ward will be factoring in on the scoring somehow.
Even if it doesn’t show up on the score sheet – say he throws a big hit or gets body position to allow for a Capitals scoring chance – Ward will be a player to watch Wednesday night.
Game 7 statistics: 4 GP, 2G, 0A; Record: 2-2