The Washington Capitals had momentum going into game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, having won games 5 and 6 whilst staring at elimination in the face. What they didn't have was history on their side. In its 43 year history in the NHL, the team has only reached the conference finals twice. Once in 1990, where they were swept by the Boston Bruins, then again in 1998, making a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final, only to be brushed aside by the Detroit Red Wings in 4 games. 2017 would be no different, as the team lost to the defending champions 2-0 at home in the Verizon Center.
Marc-Andre Fleury, the somewhat forgotten man when the 2016-17 season began, was much better than he was in game 6. He was lucky, too, with the Caps hitting the posts on a couple of occasions. But, he earned those posts, stopping 29 shots in recording his 9th career playoff shutout. If the Penguins go onto repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, the Conn Smythe just might have to awarded not to any player, but Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford, who chose not to trade Fleury, keeping him in case of an emergency, which popped up in the very first game of the playoffs when Matt Murrary got hurt during the warmup. The man who took Fleury's job was back on the bench tonight.
Bryan Rust scored the game winner in the 2nd period, converting a pass from Jake Guentzel right in front of the net. Sidney Crosby, who according to many, didn't look exactly like himself in game 6, got the other assist on the goal. He looked much better on this night.
Patrick Hornqvist scored the other goal in the final frame. It was a strange backhander that seem to surprise Capitals' starter, Braden Holtby. It was the knockout punch, as Washington didn't seem to have much of a push back after that, even though there was still time to come back.
Where was Alex Ovechkin, will be one of the questions people will be asking after tonight? The Capitals star and captain was only noticeable on this night when he got put onto his behind by Pittsburgh defenseman, Brian Dumoulin, just moments before Rust scored. Fair or not, his legacy was at stake heading into the series. He sure didn't play like it. There were others who didn't show up at various times in this series, but again, he's the star and captain. He's at least got to go down with the ship fighting. He didn't even do that.
There have been changes in management and behind the bench. Some players have come and gone. Now, what?