As the Capitals prepare for Wednesday’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at Tampa Bay, I’m here to tell you: Washington also plays an absurd number of Game 7s. It would come as no surprise if the life expectancy of the average Capitals fan was the shortest in the NHL.
The Capitals’ latest winner-take-all contest will be their league-leading 11th Game 7 since 2008. During that span, only three other teams — the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers — have played eight or more Game 7s, and all three have had better success in those games than Washington. The Capitals are 3-7 in Game 7s since 2008; the Bruins are 5-5, the Rangers are 6-2 and the Penguins are 5-3.
Washington is 4-11 in Game 7s all-time. I rehashed the first 14 Game 7s in franchise history before the Capitals’ season-ending loss to the Penguins in Game 7 last year, so there’s no need to do that again, but here are a few other notes ahead of Game 7 No. 16 …
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been here before.
The Capitals lost “Mr. Game 7,” Justin Williams, to free agency during the offseason, but they still have plenty of Game 7 experience on the roster. Wednesday will mark the 11th Game 7 for both Backstrom and Ovechkin. Among active NHL players, only the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara (12) has played in more winner-take-all games. The Capitals have 67 combined games of Game 7 experience on their roster. Tampa Bay, led by Chris Kunitz’s nine career Game 7s, has 78.
Tampa Bay fans have had it a little too good.
Lightning fans don’t (yet) know the feeling of walking out of their home arena stunned after their team’s season was ended in a winner-take-all-game. Tampa Bay is 5-2 in Game 7s during its 25-year history, including a 3-0 record at home. The Lightning won two Game 7s en route to capturing the franchise’s only Stanley Cup in 2004. Wednesday will be Tampa Bay’s sixth Game 7 since 2011 and the third time in four years the Lightning has played a Game 7 with a trip to the Stanley Cup on the line.
At home on the road?
Only four of Washington’s 15 previous Game 7s were on the road. Washington is 1-3 in those games, three of which have come during the Ovechkin era. Joel Ward’s overtime goal lifted Washington to a Game 7 win over the Bruins in 2012 before the Rangers ended the Capitals’ season in a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden in the following round. Washington also lost a Game 7 on the road against the Rangers in 2015. Road teams are 27-24 in Game 7s since 2008, including 1-1 this postseason. The Capitals are 7-2 away from Capital One Arena this postseason. A win Wednesday would establish a new franchise record for road wins in a single postseason.
Scoring is at a premium.
Goals are typically hard to come by for teams in Game 7s, and the Capitals and Lightning have been no exception. Washington has averaged 1.53 goals in its 15 Game 7s and has been shut out three times. The only time the Capitals scored more than two goals in a Game 7 was in 1988 against the Philadelphia Flyers, when Dale Hunter lifted Washington to a 5-4 overtime win. Tampa Bay has averaged 1.43 goals in its seven Game 7s. The disparity in the teams’ Game 7 records is primarily a result of defense and goaltending; the Lightning has allowed 0.714 goals per Game 7, while the Capitals have allowed 2.73 goals per Game 7.
Who will get the first goal?
During this postseason, the Capitals are 9-4 when scoring first and the Lightning is 8-1. The importance of taking a 1-0 lead will be magnified on Wednesday. Teams that score first in Game 7 are 127-44 (.743) all-time. The Lightning is 5-0 when scoring first in Game 7, while Washington is 2-3.
Braden Holtby has plenty of Game 7 experience.
Braden Holtby’s best performance of this year’s playoffs came Monday, when he stopped all 24 shots he faced to help the Capitals stave off elimination at home. It was Holtby’s fifth career playoff shutout, but his first since 2016. None of them came in a Game 7. Holtby is 2-4 with a .923 save percentage in six Game 7s during his career. He certainly has the experience edge over Andrei Vasilevskiy, who lost his only previous Game 7 during the 2016 Eastern Conference finals despite making 37 saves on 39 shots against the Penguins.
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