"As Derek Stepan stepped toward the puck on the weak side and cranked it past Braden Holtby, the New York Rangers celebrated their second straight berth in the conference finals, still unbeaten in 10 elimination games on this rink, the longest such streak in league history. The Capitals, meanwhile, trudged off the ice to begin another early summer, another round of vacations spent picking through their three straight defeats, wondering what could have been."Washington Post:
Coach Barry Trotz had instructed them to play relentlessly and without fear against the Presidents’ Trophy winners, and they felt they had. They had undergone so much change during Trotz’s maiden voyage, revamping their system and eclipsing the 100-point plateau, enjoying breakout seasons across the lineup and home-ice advantage in the first round.
And yet here was the gullet-punching cruelty of the sport they had chosen, reputations and narratives staked on the lost draw of forward Eric Fehr, making his series debut, the initial shot pummeled by defenseman Dan Girardi into traffic and Stepan, all alone, charging toward the back door with Holtby sitting on his backside. Finally, here was the resolution to these skintight semifinals, when the Rangers scored 13 times and the Capitals scored 12, and all seven games were decided by one goal.
“You saw two very good teams go nose-to-nose, with just inches, an inch here, an inch there,” Trotz said. “I think everybody here probably predicted seven games, and you got it.”
There was none of the defensiveness or whining of previous years. Instead there was a mutinous refusal to give up. When Ovechkin had said after their Game 6 loss, “The character of this group, it shows a lot. We’re gonna come back and win this series,” the remark was natural — not a pose, not a brazen guarantee, just spoken out of pure conviction. It was nothing to regret.
The problem was that the Rangers simply presented too many obstacles. The Garden itself was one, all pinwheeling spotlights, heavy metal razoring from the loudspeakers, and the blue-shirted crowd that made an unbelievable wall of sound, a dense thunder that started halfway through the opening anthem and drowned out the rest of the words. And there was Lundqvist, “Hen-REEK! Hen-REEK!” they chanted. He came into the game having won five straight Game 7s, with a .973 save percentage. Then there was the sheer weight of history and the Rangers’ streak. The Caps had lost their last two Game 7s against the Rangers in 2012 and 2013. In 17 elimination games since 2012, the Rangers have won 14, including 10 in a row at home. “I know they don’t want to come back here,” Lundqvist had said after the Caps dropped Game 5. No. They didn’t.
They will think about the ways in which they squandered chances, and gave too many to the Rangers. Like those three power plays in the second period — hold the Rangers scoreless for six minutes shorthanded? It wasn’t going to happen. The Capitals had a 3-1 series lead and were 101 seconds from advancing.
“All the games were close. We fought hard and it was a great series that could easily have gone our way,” Holtby said.