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Posted at 12:07 PM ET, 05/10/2012

History gives Capitals fans reason to be optimistic about Game 7 vs. Rangers

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS | Upsets have been the rule, not the exception, this postseason. Three of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference lost in the first round, while the top-seeded New York Rangers needed seven games to dispatch the Ottawa Senators. In the West, the Los Angeles Kings became the first No. 8 seed in NHL history to knock off the top two seeds in the conference when they beat the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues.

The Washington Capitals are doing their part as well, upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round in addition to beating the Rangers, 2-1, to force a Game 7 in the conference semifinals.

You would expect these underdogs to be at a disadvantage, but recent history gives fans a reason to be optimistic. Since 2000, there have been 12 second-round series that went the distance — and half of those ended in upsets. Since the lockout, that ratio improves to four out of six.

Year of upsetWinnerSeedEnd result
2001Pittsburgh Penguins6Lost Conf Finals, 4-1
2003Minnesota Wild6Swept in Conf Finals
2009Pittsburgh Penguins4Won Cup
2009Carolina Hurricanes6Swept in Conf Finals
2010Philadelphia Flyers7Lost Cup Finals, 4-2
2010Montreal Canadiens8Lost Conf Finals, 4-1

Three No. 6 seeds turned the trick, but all were dispatched in the Conference finals in five games or less. Philadelphia and Montreal both made a run in 2009-10, with the Flyers eventually losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals. Only the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins got to hoist the Cup, but I will spare you those gory details.

Can this Washington team become the seventh underdog to advance to the Eastern Conference finals? An achievement this franchise hasn’t seen since 1997-98?

The answer likely lies in the goaltending. Braden Holtby, Washington’s 22-year-old rookie netminder, has now gone 29 straight NHL starts — including 13 in the postseason — without losing consecutive games. Only two other goalies have had these type of playoff runs (.920 save percentage and 2.00 GAA or better with a minimum of 13 games played) at 22 or younger — Martin Brodeur (1994 and 1995) and Patrick Roy (1986) — and both of them won Cups.

Across the ice stands Vezina and Hart finalist Henrik Lundqvist, who has trouble shutting the door on Washington. Since 2008-09 there have been four games in which New York could have eliminated the Capitals, but King Henrik is 0-4 with a .840 save percentage and 3.95 GAA in those contests.

The home team in the NHL playoffs has a strong 86-57 record in Game 7s overall, but I expect this Game 7 to be like every other Capitals game this postseason: a coin flip. For an underdog on the road in a must-win game, those aren’t bad odds.

Follow Neil on Twitter: @ngreenberg | Scoring chances

More on the Capitals:
Penalty kill steps up in Game 6
Ovechkin’s big night lifts Caps
Rangers lament missed opportunities
Caps come out firing, force Game 7
Ovechkin shoots while sitting down
Hamilton: Caps continue to evolve
Caps 2012 playoffs, shot by shot
Holtby, his mom and big-game zen

By Neil Greenberg  |  12:07 PM ET, 05/10/2012

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