It took double overtime for Justin “Mr. Game 7” Williams and the Carolina Hurricanes to knock out the defending champions, the Washington Capitals, 4-3 in Game 7 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Capitals won the Cup last year, but they lost their beloved head coach. Barry Trotz headed to Long Island to coach the New York Islanders when they offered him a significant pay raise. Trotz felt the owners should have taken care of him since he guided the Caps to a title. Maybe the suits should have paid Trotz. After all, the Caps were bounced in the first round and the Islanders are still alive in the playoffs.
“Every opportunity missed is devastating, really,” said Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson. “When you don’t do well, it is more than just we were up in the series or the game. It is everything. It hurts.”
The Carolina Hurricanes dropped the first two games of the series. They looked like they were about to get swept before the Hurricanes won their first home game of the series. The Canes went on to win 5-0, but they lost their top young skater when Andrei Svechnikov went toe-to-toe against Alex Ovechkin. During a rare fight in the playoffs, Ovechkin knocked out the young Russian rookie.
The incident fired up the Canes and they won game 4 to even the series. Carolina found themselves down 3-2 after the series headed back to Washington, DC for Game 5. On the brink of elimination, the Canes won 5-2 in Game 6 to force a Game 7.
In Game 7, the Caps jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening period. They were down 3-1 midway through the second before the Cans mounted their comeback. Teivo Teravainen scored his third goal of the series to trim the deficit to 3-2. Jordan Staal scored the equalizer goal in the third period to inevitably send the game into overtime with a 4-4 tied score.
“You can kick the snot out of each other and look each other in the eye and say, ‘Man that was a great series, you really pushed us.’ We pushed each other,” said Justin Williams.
Justin Williams, known as “Mr. Game 7” for his stellar record in elimination games with the Hurricanes and LA Kings, assisted on the game-winning goal in overtime scored by Brock McGinn. Williams, who won a Cup with the Canes back in 2006, is now 8-1 in Game 7 battles. Justin Williams lived up to his moniker by notching 15 points in those nine games, which is an NHL record.
Petr Mrazek from the Czech Republic came up big by pitching shutouts in the third period and both overtime frame. Mrazek finished with 34 saves.
“Both teams were tired,” said Ovechkin. “Players played a lot of minutes.”
All Top Four Seeds Dunzo
With Washington’s exit, that makes all four top seeds and division winners dunzo in the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, the top team in the NHL this season with 62 wins, were the first top seed to topple. History was against the Lightning after all because it was rare to see the team with the most wins run the table in the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup. The Lightning were swept in the opening round by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Teams from Canada historically have not fared well in the playoffs in the last couple of decades. That meant that both the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets were doomed. Both Canadian teams out West failed to win their opening-round series. They were also top seeds and division winners who bowed out early.
Incidentally, the Toronto Maple Leafs were Canada’s last hope to win a Stanley Cup this year. Looks like Canada will have to wait until next season after the Boston Bruins won a decisive Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Carolina Hurricanes will now face Barry Trotz and the stingy New York Islanders in the Eastern Semis.
According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins are the new favorites to win the 2019 Stanley Cup at 7/2 odds.