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And so it all came down to this. A series of inches, millimeters even. A series of close calls and great goaltending. A series that many thought wouldn't be so close ended up being closer than any seven-game series has ever been. A series in which many thought the Bruins' physicality and experience would prove too much for the underdog Caps.
It would all culminate in the ultimate sporting event, Game 7, one game to decide it all. And as has been the case in so much of this series, this one was tied... right up until it wasn't.
Game over. Series over. Caps move on.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Coming into this game - as with all the others - the Caps had to know that the first goal would be crucially important. Take the hometown crowd out of it early, put the other guys on their heels, etc. In this series it's been crucially important, with the team scoring the first goal winning five (now six) of the seven games. And the Caps took care of business thanks to a great shot from the point from series stud John Carlson and a better deflection in front of the net by Matt Hendricks.
- After that it was time for Hunter Hockey to take over, and that meant playing a patient game, forcing the Bruins to make plays and not taking undue chances. Sound boring? Perhaps in a non-playoff, non-Game 7 situation. But early on in this one, when it seemed like the Bruins were getting frustrated by the defensive posture, it was nothing short of poetry.
- Physical play wasn't exactly lacking, a factor in this game as it has been in the six prior, but it was more of a restrained type of physicality - neither team wanting to push the envelope too much and gift the other team a power play in what was sure to be a close one. Lots of near-physical stuff, though, with Hendricks restraining Jason Chimera at one point and Rich Peverley restraining himself later on.
- Search back through your memory banks, kids - when is the last time you saw a penalty overturned that didn't involve a puck going over the glass? When's the last time you saw it happen in the Caps' favor? Every so often they get it right, and it happened tonight, as an apparent slash by Jay Beagle was waived off after a referee conference determined it was no foul. Blind squirrel, nut, etc.
- Maybe you thought that patient, defense-first, one-goal lead would hold up all game and the Caps would ride a Braden Holtby shutout to the second round... silly rabbit. Holtby was nothing short of tremendous at times for the Caps in this series, but just as it happened in other games, a bobble by the rookie goaltender ended up costing the Caps. Granted, his teammates need to get the puck out of the zone, as well, but a couple of bluffed saves turned into a juicy puck left all alone in the blue paint which led to Tyler Seguin getting his stick on it and tying up the game.
- Ovechkin's ice time has been an ongoing storyline in this series, but never more underlined than it was tonight. Sure, when the game is tight you want to give your defensively responsible guys some ice time... but Game 7 in the playoffs when another goal would give your team a cushion, this is when you let guys like Ovechkin shine. He wants the puck, he wants the stage, and he was looking dangerous tonight. The fact that it worked out okay for the Caps is fine, but Ovechkin not being a factor tonight was troubling - and it wasn't because of Ovechkin himself.
- Very surprising that after the Caps got the benefit of a call early on, the referees saw fit to put away the whistles... except when it came to the last three minutes of a tied game. Did I say surprising? I meant NOT surprising. The refs actually did a good job of letting both sides play most of the night, and while I'm not one to say game situations should dictate what is and isn't a penalty, calling one that late on a play that earlier would've been let go was frustrating. Major kudos to the penalty killers for the biggest two minutes of the year right there.
- Every Caps fan was likely smacking their forehead when Marcus Johansson made the odd decision to eschew the open lane presented to him on the power play and instead telegraph a dangerous cross-ice pass that was, of course, picked off. Those same foreheads were being wiped in relief just moments later when the Bruins failed to capitalize.
- Often in a series like this the top guys cancel each other out, leaving the outcome in the hands of the third- and fourth-liners - the guys who don't normally get much glory, who do more work that doesn't show up on the scoresheet while the big names are running the show. Tonight was no exception, and it was the Caps' third- and fourth-lines that dominated early and often, from the deflection by Matt Hendricks right up to the end.
- Nothing is as exciting as seeing your team win a series in overtime. Nothing. And Joel Ward made sure that the Caps' and their fans finally ended their Game 7 miseries when he picked up a rebound after a two-on-one with Mike Knuble, and made it count. A wee bit of interference by Knuble on Tim Thomas? Perhaps. But it's about time the karmic pendulum swung the Caps' way in that department, and it paid off big time. Your playoff hero: Joel Ward.
So we bid adieu to our valiant opponents in Boston and look ahead to the next ones - but not before we celebrate the moment, savor it, enjoy it, run it over in your heads as many times as necessary. Tonight, thanks to Joel Ward, Braden Holtby and the Caps... we celebrate.