Hendricks, standing in a jubilant locker room around 10:45 p.m., said it was the most animated Hunter has ever been with the team. “I think it was just his demeanor. You know, ‘We’ve made it this far. Let’s go out and win the game.’ ”
In the thunderclap moment Joel Ward punched home that Mike Knuble rebound, the Capitals incredibly seized Game 7 and this dead-even heirloom of a Stanley Cup playoff series, beating the Boston Bruins, knocking out a defending champion for the first time in franchise history.
Despite just a 2-7 Game 7 mark coming in, the Capitals actually had history on their side. They had Hunter, the only player in league annals to twice score the game-winning goal in overtime playoff games to end a series.
As a player then and as a coach now, The Eliminator had done it again.
Amid the nerves and the angst knowing one team would go home, he trudged nonchalantly around the TD Garden Wednesday, looking almost bored by it all. So unmoved by the moment, he could have been the Zamboni driver smoothing over a patch of ice instead of the coach of the road team playing a Game 7 on the home ice of the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“Don’t you feel pressure?” a team official asked.
“Pressure?” Hunter replied. “This is fun.”
“I just told them to go out there and have fun,” he said afterward on the dais, his defensive style finally vindicated in the most euphoric way possible.
This was a hairpin of a series, the first in league history to have all seven games decided by one goal. Four of the seven games went to overtime. Only once in 400-plus minutes of hockey did either team ever hold a two-goal lead — and Boston erased both in a mere 28 seconds in a beauty of a Game 5.
General Manager George McPhee’s decision to bring Hunter in after firing Bruce Boudreau in late November was a move said, in this space, to be the wrong one with two weeks to play in what looked like a depressing end to an underachieving season.
But if the Caps go even one more round, it’s going to be hard to back that theory.
They found themselves late and played with purpose and passion to get in. Then they played Hunter’s dump-chase-and-defend game as well as it can be played against the Bruins, using an economy of energy to poke pucks away at the last possible second in front of rookie goaltender Braden Holtby.
A word about Holtby: unflinching. At 22 years old, he was golden in goal — especially given his counterpart for Boston, Tim Thomas, was one of the top three goalies in the game and he saw and stopped 42 more shots than Thomas before overtime of Game 7.