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 upset||Winner||Seed||End result|
|2001||Pittsburgh Penguins||6||Lost Conf Finals, 4-1|
|2003||Minnesota Wild||6||Swept in Conf Finals|
|2009||Pittsburgh Penguins||4||Won Cup|
|2009||Carolina Hurricanes||6||Swept in Conf Finals|
|2010||Philadelphia Flyers||7||Lost Cup Finals, 4-2|
|2010||Montreal Canadiens||8||Lost 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.
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