WASHINGTON (AP) — The precocious Russian forward drafted in the first round by the Washington Capitals finally delivered a breathtaking, winning goal in a Game 7. No, not Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Skating around every opponent on the ice, Kuznetsov scored the go-ahead goal with less than 7 1/2 minutes left in Game 7, and Braden Holtby only needed to make 10 saves Monday night, lifting the Washington Capitals past the New York Islanders 2-1 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Kuznetsov, a rookie, scored the sort of athletic, breathtaking goal his better-known teammate, Ovechkin, often does, taking the puck from the right boards and heading across the ice before sending a rising shot over sprawling goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Joel Ward gave Washington a 1-0 lead late in the second period, and Frans Nielsen pulled New York even early in the third.
The Capitals now face the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers, who eliminated Washington from the 2012 and 2013 playoffs — in Game 7 each time.
That’s part of a long history of postseason failures for the Capitals, including never advancing beyond the second round since Ovechkin arrived and started earning MVP trophies and leading the NHL in goals year after year. This was the eighth time in 10 playoff series involving Ovechkin that went to a Game 7, and his team was only 2-5 in such contests until Monday.
Until Kuznetsov, a 22-year-old center, came through, adding to the two goals and assist he had in Game 3.
The Islanders’ loss ends their playing days at Nassau Coliseum, which opened in 1972. The team is moving to Brooklyn next season.
You have to go back 22 years to find a playoff series won by the Islanders, and that victory in 1993 came against — guess who? — the Capitals. Since then, New York has lost seven consecutive first-round series.
This was the first Game 7 of this year’s NHL playoffs and it was a fitting conclusion to this particular matchup, given how even these two teams are. Through the first six games, each team scored 14 goals. Each won on the road. Each won in overtime. And during the regular season, both finished with 101 standings points, and three of their four head-to-head meetings went to overtime.
NOTES: Paul Pierce, John Wall, Marcin Gortat and Rasual Butler of the NBA’s Wizards sat in the front row, a night after sweeping the Raptors in the same arena. Pierce used both hands to bang on the glass when one New York player approached, just like any fan might do. … Home teams were only 1-6 in Game 7s in last year’s NHL playoffs. … For all the history, mostly negative, when it comes to the Capitals in the postseason, their coach, Barry Trotz, was participating in his first Game 7 behind the bench in the NHL. So, too, was Islanders coach Jack Capuano. After 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was hired by Washington last offseason to replace Adam Oates. … Most of the Capitals’ roster, 14 players in all, had appeared in at least three prior Game 7s. In contrast, only three members of the Islanders — Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Tyler Kennedy — had that much previous experience.
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