Well, here we are again. Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals are preparing for another gut-wrenching Game 7 against the hated Penguins. Capitals fans are hoping for — and, after Monday’s dominating win in Pittsburgh, maybe even expecting — the best. No one could blame them for preparing for the worst.
Washington is 4-10 all-time in Game 7s, including a 3-7 mark at home. The only teams with at least as many Game 7 losses are the Maple Leafs (10), Red Wings (11) and Bruins (12), who make up one half of the NHL’s Original Six. Wednesday also marks the Capitals’ 10th Game 7 during the Ovechkin Era, a 10-year run that has featured twice as many instances of heartbreak and disappointment as euphoria and happy handshake lines.
“This group doesn’t really care what’s happened in the past,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said before Washington closed out the Maple Leafs in six games in the first round, repeating a mantra he’s echoed over the last three seasons. “They really care about what’s happening now. And that’s what’s really important for any group. I think it’s more the media than anybody else.”
Guilty as charged. While players may not care what happened in 1987, or 1995, or 2010, and Pat LaFontaine and Jaroslav Halak have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the Capitals’ latest Game 7, Wednesday’s result will be colored by Washington’s tortured playoff history. A loss at home would rank among the worst letdowns in the franchise’s 43-year existence. A win to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1998 would be especially sweet, because it would complete a comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit against a playoff nemesis that has pulled the same cruel trick on the Capitals twice before. Washington owes the Penguins, who have blown a pair of 3-1 series leads in the last six years.
Pittsburgh is 8-7 all-time in Game 7s, but undefeated (5-0) on the road, including wins at Capital Centre and Verizon Center in 1992 and 2009, respectively. Not that the Capitals care about the past, but they did win their last Game 7 at home, in 2015 against the Islanders, and they’ve yet to lose a Game 7 with “Mr. Game 7,” Justin Williams, on the roster. That’s a fact.
Here’s a game-by-game look at the Capitals in Game 7. Consider it exposure therapy.
April 18-19, 1987: Pat LaFontaine ended the “Easter Epic” — the longest Game 7 in NHL history — in the fourth overtime at Capital Centre.
April 16, 1988: Dale Hunter scored in overtime to give the Capitals a 5-4 win at home. Hunter’s goal completed a comeback from down 3-0 in Game 7 and a three games to one deficit in the series.
April 30, 1988: Washington’s postseason frustrations weren’t completely buried. The Capitals thought New Jersey’s John MacLean was offside on the play that led to his game-winning goal, but linesman Kevin Collins saw it differently.
May 1, 1992: The Penguins won, 3-1, at Capital Centre, capping Pittsburgh’s comeback from a three-games-to-one hole.
May 18, 1995: Another seemingly commanding 3-1 series lead vanished and the Capitals dropped Game 7 in Pittsburgh, 3-0.
April 22, 2008: The Capitals went 13 years without playing a Game 7. The result, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Flyers, was all too familiar.
April 28, 2009: Sergei Fedorov beat Henrik Lundqvist with 4:59 remaining to send the Capitals to a 2-1 win over the Rangers at Verizon Center.
May 13, 2009: The Penguins embarrassed the Capitals at Verizon Center, taking a 4-0 lead early in the second period en route to a 6-2 win.
April 28, 2010: Jaroslav Halak made 41 saves in eighth-seeded Montreal’s 2-1 win at Verizon Center.
April 25, 2012: Joel Ward scored the game-winner less than 3 minutes into overtime, giving Washington a 2-1 win in Boston.
May 12, 2012: The Capitals fell behind early against the Rangers and never recovered in a 2-1 loss at Madison Square Garden.
May 13, 2013: The Capitals suffered their worst postseason loss since 2000, a 5-0 shutout by the Rangers at Verizon Center.
April 27, 2015: Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal in the third period of a 2-1 win over the Islanders at Verizon Center.
May 13, 2015: Derek Stepan scored 11:24 into overtime to lift the Rangers to a 2-1 win and end the Capitals’ season in the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden.