It was only fitting that the Washington-Boston should go to overtime of a Game 7, only fitting that it should be a war of the goaltenders, and only fitting that it took a virtually-impossible-to-stop shot sliding into the narrowest crease on the net to win it. The Capitals got the winning goal from Joel Ward, ousted last year’s Stanley Cup winner 2-1 and moved on to the Eastern conference semi-finals.
Once again, the overriding story of this game was 22-year-old Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, who should immediately take his place with Stephen Strasburg, and presumably Robert Griffin III later tonight, in the orbit of bright young stars in the nation’s capital. Actually, since Holtby has now won a playoff series and outdueled a veteran goalie in Tim Thomas who was excellent in his own right, maybe Holtby should elevate up to be in a sphere with Timmy Smith, the running back who came out of nowhere to be Super Bowl MVP for the Redskins in 1987. Of course the Capitals are hoping Holtby settles in for a long career that puts him up there with the Hogs, the famed offensive line of the city’s beloved NFL team.
Okay, it’s time to stop with the all the historical analogies. Maybe it’s because I’m mostly a fan of Boston pro sports teams, with the Redskins being the one exception, that I’m avoiding dealing with hockey reality right now and finding reasons to link the Caps to the ‘Skins. But I don’t want it to sound like sour grapes when I say Boston did everything they could realistically be expected to do. They won the battle of shots on goal, 32-27. That relatively narrow edge becomes larger when you consider Bruins’ center Tyler Seguin got active and ripped off seven shots, while Caps star Alex Ovechkin only got two. Penalties were a non-factor.
But Holtby didn’t let Seguin beat him again, not after the latter’s overtime goal in Game 6 and this time in OT it was Washington who got the breakaway chance. Thomas stopped the first shot on him, and I was about to have an “He Didn’t Actually Save That!” kind of moment, when a hustling Ward was able to scoop up the rebound at close range and slip it in over the Double T’s right shoulder. The Bruins may have outplayed the Caps in the boxcsore, but on the game’s decisive play, it was Washington who had a man in position to pounce on a loose puck, when no one was around to bail out Timmy T.
Thus, the first of our three Game 7s in the Eastern Conference reached a thrilling end. We’ve got a double dose of Game 7 tonight, as the New York Rangers host Ottawa and New Jersey goes to Florida. In the former game, it’s all about Henrik Lundqvist. The goalie, so dominant through the regular season and still pretty good in the playoffs, needs to have a “Hop on my back and I’ll carry you” kind of game. If Thomas could do it last year and in Game 6 of the Washington series, and an untested Braden Holtby could do it last night in Beantown, then surely Lundqvist can do it in front of his own fans. For Jersey-Florida, I’m standing by my series pick of the Devils, and just reiterating what I’ve said from the start—total team defense. New Jersey needs to get a lead and collapse back, making sure Martin Brodeur doesn’t get with more than 25 shots put on him. Do that, and they can move on.
The Eastern Conference semis offer a number of scenarios. What we can say for sure is that if New York wins they will host Washington, and if Ottawa wins they go to Florida, a series matchup that will surely have the folks at the NBC coalition that’s televising these playoffs weeping.