John Tavares (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals are set for their first Game 7 against each other in more than 27 years. That last Game 7, the famed Easter Epic, had Pat LaFontaine play the role of hero. Who could play that part in Monday’s series-deciding game?
More than a quarter century ago, the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals played in one of the most classic and iconic playoff contests in NHL history, the famed ‘Easter Epic’ that went to four overtimes before Pat LaFontaine scored the winner.
That game, which began on April 18 and ended on April 19 of the 1987 Stanley Cup playoffs, stands as the longest Game 7 in NHL history. In 2012, The Hockey News’ Adam Proteau spoke with members of both squads, including the overtime hero LaFontaine, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the game. Now, 27 years later, the two sides are set to do battle in another Game 7 and once again, the winner will be moving on to the second round.
As we head into Monday evening’s series-deciding game, there stands the chance for a new hero to be made. Here are five potential Game 7 heroes:
Through six games, Ovechkin has found the back of the net twice, but he hasn’t scored since Game 5 and if there’s anyone who will be fired up for Game 7, it’s going to be Ovechkin. At times in Game 6, it was hard to even notice Ovechkin’s play, and he’ll likely be seeking to atone for his big hit on John Tavares that led to his being out of position on Islanders winger Nikolay Kulemin’s game-winning goal Saturday afternoon.
Ovechkin’s history in Game 7’s leaves something to be desired, though. He may be one of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history, but when his team needs him to come up big in a series-deciding seventh tilt, he has only managed to find the back of the net twice in six outings. In the three Game 7’s the Capitals have played since 2010, Ovechkin hasn’t registered a single point and Washington has dropped all three games.
If Ovechkin can find some space in the final game of what has been an incredibly tight-checking series, a goal or a few shots on net that create some havoc could go a long way to tipping the scales in Washington’s favor.
Game 7 statistics: 6 GP, 2G, 1A; Record: 2-4
Tavares is to the Islanders what Ovechkin is to the Capitals – the brilliant goal scorer with a knack for the net and the undeniable face of the franchise. If Tavares wants to solidify an early legacy for himself with the Islanders, stepping up in Game 7 would be the way to do it.
As mentioned, his willingness to get into the corner and take a blast from Ovechkin on Game 6’s game-winning goal showed that Tavares will stop at nothing to ensure New York has the best chance of continuing their season.
If the Islanders don’t pick up the victory, they will have played their final game at Nassau Coliseum in Saturday’s Game 6.
Game 7 statistics: 0 GP; Record: 0-0
Backstrom is the set-up man to Ovechkin’s sniper, but the skilled pivot is actually the one putting up the most points for the Capitals. Through six games, Backstrom has found the net three times and assisted on three Washington goals. Since scoring in games 2, 3 and 4, though, Backstrom hasn’t found the score sheet.
If there was ever a time for him to come back alive in this series, Game 7 would be it. Early in the series, the Capitals’ hopes hinged on what he and Ovechkin could provide. In overtime of Game 4, it was his wristshot from the blueline that beat Jaroslav Halak to even up the series. Backstrom has been rendered ineffective since then, but if he can find time to make a play, there’s a good chance the puck ends up in the back of the Islanders’ net.
Game 7 statistics: 6 GP, 1G, 1A; Record: 2-4
The Islanders’ fourth line
Looking at the Islanders roster, one wouldn’t expect Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin or Cal Clutterbuck to be game-changers, but throughout the first round the trio has been incredible on the forecheck and continues to produce A+ scoring chances in nearly every single game of the series. With how, dare we say, dominant the line has been, it’s not beyond believing that one of the three could be the Game 7 hero.
Though they only have two goals and four points between them, each has played their opponents perfectly, driving possession while not letting a single Capitals player escape their physical play.
The only concern about the fourth line is that, while you may expect at least one Game 7 between them, none of them have suited up for a winner-takes-all game in the NHL post-season. While it won’t change the way Cizikas, Martin or Clutterbuck play, knowing what the atmosphere will be like before stepping on the ice can go a long way.
Game 7 statistics (combined): 0 GP; Record (combined): 0-0
Like the Islanders big, bruising fourth line, Kuznetsov has absolutely zero experience playing in Game 7. Matter of fact, heading into the 2014-15 playoffs, he hadn’t played a minute of post-season hockey in the NHL. This is all new to Kuznetsov, but he hasn’t looked even one bit out of place in the Washington lineup.
Through six games, Kuznetsov has two goals and three points, but he has been one of the best players on the ice for either team over the past three contests. In Game 5, he broke out with a three-point night and looked like an all-star with the puck on his stick. In Game 6, it was much of the same, but he failed to find the score sheet.
If Game 7 opens up – and there’s a good chance it could turn into a back-and-forth affair – Kuznetsov will be a player to watch. He may be 22 years old, but when he has turned it on this series, he has looked outstanding.
Game 7 statistics: 0 GP; Record: 0-0