Last night was quite an evening for the National Hockey league. Two games. Two game 7’s. Is there anything more exciting than a game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs? How about two game 7’s…
Four teams put everything on the line last night for a place in the Eastern and Western Conference finals. First up was last years Stanley Cup champions the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the President trophy winning Washington Capitals…
As expected, when the two best teams in the Eastern Conference came together, the hockey world were expecting one hell of a series… And thats what they got.
The series began in quite an unexpected way. The Penguins took both of the first two games on the road, getting out to a somewhat commanding 2-0 series lead; winning G1 3-2 and G2 6-2. The Capitals then went into Pittsburgh in a ‘must win’ game, and pulled out a G3 3-2 win in overtime to claw back to 2-1. Just as Washington thought they had the momentum heading into game 4, it was taken straight from them as the Penguins took G4 3-2 to extend their series lead to 3-1. Every game from here on out for the Caps was ‘must win’, win or go home… And win they did. Games 5 and 6 were dominated by Washington with 4-2 and 5-2 victories to force an exciting game 7 at the Verizon Center in D.C.
The Washington Capitals haven’t been to an Eastern Conference final since 1998, and unfortunately for them, it stayed that way.
After an evenly contested 1st period that saw both teams have a Powerplay opportunity, the score remained at 0-0 at the break. Primarily thanks to the efforts of both Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby between the pipes.
Both net-minders were standing tall for the first few minutes of time in the 2nd period. Until winger Bryan Rust broke the deadlock at the 8.49 mark of the 2nd period. Washington failed to clear the puck from their own zone thanks to a brilliant keep in by Ian Cole, who fed the puck to Sidney Crosby creating a 3-on-2 right in front of Holtby. Crosby found line-mate Jake Guentzel who played a wonderful cross crease pass to Rust who went top shelf on the Caps goalie, giving the Pens a 1-0 lead.
Fleury was able to withstand an array of Capitals attacks, including an incredible one-timer from the slot by Alex Ovechkin which usually finds its way in. Fleury was able to deny the Capitals captain on a number of occasions in the 3rd period. The Penguins then rewarded their goaltender and his efforts with the game killing goal. Patrick Hornqvist’s backhand attempt somehow snuck past Holtby 4.14 into the 3rd period. After another failed clear attempted from Washington, the puck was eventually turned over by Ovechkin along the boards and the fell straight to Hornqvist who quickly chipped a backhand attempt on goal, and that was game over.
A 2-0 game 7 victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins. A ninth playoff shutout for Marc-Andre Fleury, and a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the Pens. They meet the Ottawa Senators for a place in the Stanley Cup Final.
Next up was the Edmonton Oilers vs Anaheim Ducks… Yes, you read that right, the Oilers.
Another big match-up, this time from the Western Conference. The Oilers are a team that’ve taken a huge step from last season, and thats thanks to superstar youngster Connor McDavid and his team of young starlets. Whereas the Ducks have been a consisted unit throughout the year, with the third best record in the West this season.
The Oilers came out flying in games 1 and 2, picking up 5-3 and 2-1 wins to take the first two on the road. Home-ice advantage seemed pretty irrelevant in this series, and the Ducks backed that up by taking the next two games in Edmonton 6-3, 4-3 (OT). The series tied at 2-2, game 5 was going to be massive, and it was. A marathon affair saw the Ducks take a 4-3 win in double OT. Could that have broken the Oilers? Not a chance, game 6 was a demolition. A 7-1 win for Edmonton saw them tie the series at 3, and force a game 7.
The Anaheim Ducks have lost four-straight playoff game 7’s. FOUR. Tonight saw that streak come to an end in one hell of a hockey game.
The Oilers would strike first in game 7, and early. A hard two-man forecheck from the Oilers was enough to force a mistake out of D-man Shea Theodore, who couldn’t get rid of the puck before Drake Caggiula’s cut to the net made contact with Theodore and defleced the puck past a dormant John Gibson, 3.31 into the game. Edmonton would come out of the first outshooting Anaheim 13-7.
The 2nd period was a completely different story. The Ducks came out with a new attitude and tied the game up at the 8.58 mark of the 2nd. Andrew Cogliano crashed the net and slid home the puck after Ryan Kelser’s close-in attempt had Cam Talbot on his belly. 1-1. The 2nd period belonged to the Ducks who dominated, outshooting the Oilers 16-3.
The 3rd period, do or die time for both teams, consisted of a lot of hits, and a lot of centre ice play, board battles and not a lot of shots. But it only takes one shot to win a game. An odd-man rush attempt form the Ducks went way wide of the net, but a great pinch play from defensemen Sami Vatanen who controlled the puck and passed to Nick Ritchie who was positioned perfectly in the right circle to convert a dart of a shot passed Cam Talbot to give the Anaheim Ducks a 2-1 lead, and ultimately the game winning goal.
The Ducks would win a playoff series whilst trailed 2-0 for the first time ever. They will now play the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference finals. Perhaps one of the most exciting match-ups we’ve seen in a while.
Meanwhile the Edmonton Oilers must be proud of how their season went. They’ve made a huge jump, and this won’t be a last time we see the ion this playoff situation.