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Washington Capitals: Hope and History on the Road in Game 7

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The Caps are in unfamiliar territory going into Wednesday night’s game — a playoff Game 7 on the road. Is there anything in that, or anyone else’s Game 7 history on the road that points to an outcome?

Washington Capitals v Boston Bruins - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Well, here we are. Another “Game 7” for the Washington Capitals. There have been 55 Games 7 played in the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2005-2006, and of that number, the Caps have been a participant in ten of them, tied with the Boston Bruins for most in that span. There is an odd wrinkle in Wednesday night’s Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference final, though — while only Boston has hosted more Games 7 in this era (eight) than Washington (seven), the Caps have comparatively little experience in this sort of thing on the road in the Rock the Red era. Only three times have the Caps played a Game 7 on the road since 2005-2006, losing two decisions in Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers, both by 2-1 margins (in 2012 and in overtime in 2015), and beating Boston at TD Garden by a 2-1 margin in overtime in 2012.

Is there anything that can be gleaned from such a sparse record of Games 7 on the road? For the Caps, not really…

  • They were outshot in each of the three games, averaging 28.7 shots per game while allowing 34.0 shots per game.
  • The Caps were blanked on power plays in each of the three games, going 0-for-5 overall.
  • Washington was 8-for-9 killing penalties, the only goal they allowed that being the one that tied the 2015 Game 7 against the Rangers that the Caps went on to lose in overtime. Note on that one, the assists on the Kevin Hayes power play strike were recorded by J.T. Miller and Dan Girardi, both of whom will play for the Lightning in the Game 7 against the Caps on Wednesday night.
  • Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each had one point over those three games, both coming on a first period goal scored by Ovechkin (secondary assist to Backstrom) in the 2-1 overtime loss to the Rangers in 2015.
  • For Ovechkin, the shooting was feast or famine. He had ten shots overall over the three games, but he was held to two in the 2012 overtime win over the Bruins in 2012 and in the loss to the Rangers in the next round that year that ended the Caps’ season.
  • Braden Holtby probably deserved better in goal, posting a 1.51 goals against average and a .951 save percentage in those three games, but only the one win to show for it.
  • Only two points were recorded by defensemen, an assist by John Carlson in the 2-1 overtime win over Boston in 2012 and a goal by Roman Hamrlik in the 2012 loss to the Rangers.
  • Scoring first did not seem to matter. The Caps scored first in their lone win, the 2-1 overtime win over Boston (Matt Hendricks did the honors in the first period), but they both allowed the first goal against the Rangers (in the overtime game in 2012) and scored first (in the 2015 contest, Ovechkin getting the goal) and lost both.
  • Only five Capitals who played in the first of those three road Games 7 (in Boston in 2012) will dress on Wednesday night: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby.
  • Six of the 18 skaters in that 2012 game in Boston did not dress for a game in the NHL in 2017-2018: Keith Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik, Mike Knuble, Jeff Schultz, Alexander Semin, and Dennis Wideman. A seventh – Brooks Laich – dressed for only 12 games for the Los Angeles Kings before his contract was terminated on November 27th.

Is there anything in the broader history of road Games 7 that stands out?

  • Here is one that Caps fans can hang their hats on. Road teams are 28-27 in the 55 Games 7 played since 2006. They are 1-1 in this postseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs losing in Boston to the Bruins, 7-4, and the Winnipeg Jets defeating the Predators, 5-1, in Nashville.
  • On the other hand, road teams have lost five of the last seven Games 7.
  • Tampa Bay has hosted only one of those Games 7, that in 2015 against the Detroit Red Wings. They won, 2-0. Odd thing about that game, both goals were scored by defensemen (Braydon Coburn and an empty-netter by Anton Stralman).
  • Odd how individual things don’t seem to matter much. Road teams recording more than 30 shots are 9-6, while road teams recording 20 or fewer are 7-5. Road teams allowing more than 35 shots are 13-9, while those allowing 25 or fewer are 6-3.
  • Special teams might provide a hint. Road teams recording at least one power play goal are 13-8; those with two or more are 6-1, and that loss was in overtime (Boston over Montreal in 2011). Road teams shutting out the home team on their power play are 17-14.
  • One thing might be a safe bet, a one-goal game. 32 of the 55 games were one-goal decisions. However, the road team won only 14 of those decisions, dropping the other 18.
  • Twelve of the 55 games were settled in overtime, road and home teams splitting the decisions down the middle at six apiece. Of the 12 overtime games, two went to a second overtime, those decisions also split between the road team (New Jersey beating Florida in 2012) and the home team (Pittsburgh over Ottawa last season).

The point of all of this is, if you think there is some magic number to indicate which of these teams has an advantage, it is not found in the recent history of Games 7. Caps fans will be hoping that the relevant recent history is their superb performance on Monday night. For Tampa, the hope will be that the recent history that matters is Games 3-5 that put them on the edge of a Stanley Cup berth. One team’s hopes will be fulfilled. The other will play golf.

We hear there are a lot of great golf courses in Florida. Hope the Lightning players get a chance to re-acquaint themselves with them soon.