To be honest, following the Caps 4-2 win over the Pens in Game 5, I watched Braden Holtby’s interview with NBC’s Pierre McGuire and concluded right there that they would go into Pittsburgh and win.
Sure enough, they did doing it convincingly by a count of 5-2 over a listless Pens in Game 6. So, now they have what they want. The epic second round rematch going seven. The only difference is it looks the Caps are gonna pull it off.
This is what they got Justin Williams for. To give them belief that even down 3-1 to the defending champs, they could come back.
Washington is in this position thanks to a key adjustment from tactician Barry Trotz, who put Alexander Ovechkin on the third line. A move that’s worked out well. Andre Burakovsky was moved up to the top line. He had himself a night scoring twice including off a key defensive play and later a highlight reel goal top shelf over Marc-Andre Fleury that made it 5-0.
They’re here due to their top players stepping up. Nicklas Backstrom flew into the Pens zone and blew one past Fleury high glove 16 seconds into the third for a 3-0 lead. John Carlson then had a wicked one-timer top shelf for the Caps’ second power play goal for a four goal bulge.
T.J. Oshie got the scoring started in the first off a great set up from Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first. A lopsided period that saw the Caps hold the Pens to only three shots. In fact, it was 16-8 in shots with two minutes left in the second with Burakovsky’s first off Fleury having Washington up two.
Holtby didn’t have much to do only stopping 16 of 18 shots with both Pens tallies coming in garbage time during a four-on-four. Sidney Crosby set up rookie Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin finished in front.
The question is did the Caps do psychological damage to a experienced team led by Crosby? Hard to say. In the history between the two old Patrick Division rivals, they’ve gone to a Game 7 three previous times with the Pens prevailing in all three.
Most recently in 2009 in the sane round when the Pens won in seven after losing a home Game 6 just like the current scenario. Is this the moment Ovechkin finally erases the second round ghosts and reaches a Conference Final? His deeper team is better and have finally exposed a thin Pens D minus Kris Letang and now Trevor Daley.
While Nashville awaits the Edmonton/Anaheim winner in Game 7, the league gets a second Game 7 between its two marquee stars. Only it’s Backstrom and Kuznetsov doing the heavy lifting for the Caps. Crosby returned from a minor concussion in Game 5. His team has lost twice since. Crosby is lucky he wasn’t reinjured on a dangerous fall into the boards. The Pens didn’t do a concussion protocol.
Meanwhile, the Rangers prepare for a do or die Game 6 Tuesday night against Ottawa. They somehow trail 3-2 in a befuddling second round series where they’ve only trailer for 13 minutes. That’s what happens when you can’t protect leads and don’t get the defense or saves they’re accustomed to from Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers have plenty of experience in elimination games. I would expect them to be ready at MSG with a start time of 7:30 PM. They are the better team. But none of that matters if they don’t play a full 60 minutes or more if nervously required.
As much criticism as Alain Vigneault’s received for some of his personnel choices late in Games 2 and 5, it comes down to the execution of the players. There have been too many passengers. It’s high time Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Lundqvist performed to capability.
It can’t just always be the same guys. To pull off this comeback, they need maximum efforts from all 18-19 skaters. It’s their playoff livelihood on the line. We’ll see what they’re made of.