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


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

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.

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