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First Round

Ovechkin, Backstrom lead Capitals into Game 7 against Hurricanes

Veteran forwards have eight points each in first-round playoff series

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have carried the Washington Capitals this far.

Now the Capitals need their dynamic duo to lead them to one more win, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS, NBCSWA, FS-CR). 

If they get it, they will win the best-of-7 series and advance to play the New York Islanders in the second round. A loss would end Washington's season and its reign as Stanley Cup champion.


[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Hurricanes series coverage]


But of the many questions the Capitals face heading into this Game 7, none of them are about Ovechkin and Backstrom. 

"We wouldn't be in this situation without them," Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. "They've been outstanding. They've been the consistency to our group and that's why they're our leaders. In terms of play, [Ovechkin] is right at the top right now in every area. He's playing hard, and it's on us to follow him now and play our best game."

Ovechkin (four goals, four assists) and Backstrom (five goals, three assists) share the Capitals scoring lead with eight points in the series. With the Hurricanes overplaying him at times, Ovechkin has made them pay by utilizing his passing skills. The Capitals captain also leads Washington with 34 hits, including 11 in their 6-0, Game 5 win.

Backstrom, known more for his passing, has equaled his goals from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season when he had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 20 games.

"They're superstars in the League doing superstar stuff," Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly said. "How they're playing, they come to play all the big games, and last year they came to play every night. So for me, I'm not really that surprised."

Video: Williams' goal helps Carolina force decisive Game 7

There was a time not too long ago that a Game 7 would be viewed as a referendum on Ovechkin's NHL career. No doubt, the Capitals have their share of heartbreak, going 4-7 in Game 7 with Ovechkin, beginning with a seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

But everything changed last season when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup. Included in that run was a 4-0, Game 7 win in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, with Ovechkin scoring the winning goal.

A lot of the criticism of Ovechkin was unfounded. The 33-year-old's 65 playoff goals are second-most in the NHL since 2005-06, behind Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who has 66. And Ovechkin's 0.51 goals per game is best in the League during that span among players who have played at least 50 playoff games.

Ovechkin has scored in each of the past three games against Carolina and had one disallowed in a 5-2 loss in Game 6 on Monday because it was ruled he pushed goalie Petr Mrazek's pad, causing the puck to enter the net.

Some saw frustration in Ovechkin when he left the ice after receiving a 10-minute misconduct with 1:08 left. The Capitals saw something else.

"I think it shows the fact that the guy wants to win and that he'll do anything it takes," Washington forward Nic Dowd said. "Of all guys on the ice, I think he has the right to say something. … I think it's, this guy wants to win and he's going to wear his heart on his sleeve and we're going to follow suit."

Capitals coach Todd Reirden mentioned Monday how Ovechkin used to be criticized for not showing enough emotion in big games. That no longer is the case.

There's no doubt the Capitals need more out of other players to win this series, beginning with center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has five assists in the first six games but has been been invisible at times and far from the impact player who led the NHL with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 24 playoff games last season.

As Reirden said, Kuznetsov has plenty of company. Other than Game 5, the Hurricanes largely have been the better team. 

So Reirden could probably go down the Capitals roster and name something from almost every player he'd like to see them do better. Reirden mentioned the need for Ovechkin and Backstrom to take on even bigger leadership roles with forward T.J. Oshie sidelined with a fractured right collarbone. 

But he couldn't ask for more than they've given on the ice. Except for them to do it again Wednesday.

"They're excited about tomorrow because there's another chance to get better and there's another level that they can get to as well," Reirden said. "And maybe that doesn't show up on a score sheet. That's more stuff that we see as coaches behind the scenes, but we need more from right down our list."


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