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Caps-Pens ready to join NHL's other 7-game epics

by John McGourty
Just call it "epic."

This series between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins has achieved historic significance in NHL lore what with three overtime games, momentum swings, great goaltending, five one-goal outcomes in the six games played to date, and two Washington own-goal defeats in overtime.

Oh, and Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have been a little north of special.

The series has to end, unfortunately, and it will, one way or another, Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS) at Washington's Verizon Center in a dramatic seventh game.

Going into Game 7, Crosby and Ovechkin are tied for the playoffs' lead with 10 goals, while Ovechkin leads Crosby, 20-18, in points. Ovechkin leads all players with a plus-11 rating.

Caps rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov is tied for the lead with two shutouts and has a .925 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against average, while Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has a .901 save percentage and 2.78 goals-against average.

The series is poised to join a select group of seven-game Stanley Cup Playoffs series':

1942: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings We'll start off with the most dramatic Stanley Cup outcome of all time, the Toronto Maple Leafs' rally from a three-game deficit to defeat the Detroit Red Wings.

The Rangers had won the regular season, with Toronto second and Detroit fourth. Detroit had to beat Montreal in the preliminary round and then defeated the Bruins in the semifinals while Toronto eliminated the Rangers in six games.

The Red Wings baffled the Maple Leafs with their dump-and-chase strategy through the first three games. They won Game 1 in Toronto, 3-2, and posted a 4-2 victory there in Game 2. The Red Wings had little trouble in Game 3 at the Olympia, winning 5-3.

Toronto coach Hap Day then benched leading scorer Gordie Drillon and put idled winger Don Metz in his place. Metz had only two goals and three assists in 25 regular-season games, but he went wild over the rest of the series, posting four goals and three assists.

But Detroit went up 2-0 in Game 4 before the Maple Leafs tied it. The Red Wings scored next but Syl Apps got the equalizer for the Leafs. Apps and Metz then set up Nick Metz, Don's brother, for the game-winner with about 12 minutes remaining. Angered by two late penalties, Detroit coach Jack Adams attacked referee Mel Harwood, completing a nearly team-wide emotional meltdown.

Don Metz had a hat trick and two assists in Game 5 and scored the winning goal in Game 6. But the Red Wings were less than 13 minutes from winning the Stanley Cup before Sweeney Schriner tied Game 7 at 1-1. Pete Langelle scored two minutes later and Schriner scored his second goal to give the Maple Leafs the Stanley Cup in the greatest final series comeback in professional sports history.

1979: Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens -- The Canadiens had won three-straight Stanley Cups after winning the regular-season title from 1976-78, but finished second in the 1979 regular season to the New York Islanders. The Canadiens, though, were still a solid team, led by Jacques Lemaire, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard.

They swept the Maple Leafs in the quarterfinals to meet the Boston Bruins, who had likewise swept the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bruins were a strong mix of skill and muscle, backed by the goaltending of Gerry Cheevers and Gilles Gilbert. Rick Middleton, Peter McNab, Terry O'Reilly, Jean Ratelle, Wayne Cashman, Brad Park and Mike Milbury starred for the Bruins but, ignominiously, Don Marcotte is best remembered.

For it was defensive specialist Marcotte, assigned by coach Don Cherry to shadow Lafleur, who got caught on a line change with Boston leading, 4-3, and less than three minutes to play in Game 7. On the ensuing power play, Lafleur beat Gilbert with a long shot from the right boards to tie the game and Yvon Lambert redirected Mario Tremblay's pass in overtime to win the series.

1986: Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames -- The Oilers were seeking their third-straight Stanley Cup in 1986 and they had perhaps their best team. Wayne Gretzky had his greatest season with 163 assists and 215 points. Paul Coffey set a record for defensemen with 48 goals. Ten Oilers went to the NHL All-Star Game.

The Oilers led the regular season with 56 wins and 119 points, tying a team record. They won 20 of their last 25 games and outscored Vancouver, 17-5, to sweep their three-game preliminary series. In the best "Battle of Alberta" ever, Calgary, which finished 30 points behind Edmonton during the regular season, beat the Oilers in seven games when Edmonton defenseman Steve Smith put the deciding goal into his own net on an errant pass that hit goalie Grant Fuhr's pads.

Calgary opened the series with a 4-1 victory at Edmonton and the Oilers responded with a 6-5 overtime victory in Game 2 on Glenn Anderson's goal. Calgary won Game 3, 3-2, at home but Edmonton roared back with a 7-4 victory in Game 4. The teams then swapped road victories and were tied 2-2 early in the third period of Game 7 when Smith attempted a cross-ice pass from his goal line that struck Fuhr's pads and went in the net. The Flames held on for a 3-2 victory, downed St. Louis in the conference final and lost the Stanley Cup Final in five games to the Montreal Canadiens.

1994:  New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers The New York Rangers' Eastern Conference Finals victory against the New Jersey Devils in 1994 is the modern gold standard for Stanley Cup Playoffs drama.

The Rangers were the NHL's best team during the regular season with 52 victories and 112 points, but the Devils were second-best with 106 points. New York swept the Islanders in the first round and eliminated the Capitals in the second round. New Jersey defeated Buffalo and Boston to get to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Devils hadn't beaten New York all season, until Stephane Richer scored at 15:23 of the second overtime in Game 1 for a 4-3 victory. The Rangers stormed back with a 4-0, Game 2 shutout by Mike Richter. Stephane Matteau, acquired at the trading deadline, scored an unassisted goal at 6:13 of the second overtime to beat the Devils, 3-2, in Game 3 at Brendan Byrne Arena.

Billy Guerin had the game-winner for the Devils in Game 4, a 3-1 victory, and the Devils went up 3-2 in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden with a 4-1 win. Mike Peluso had the game-winner.

With the Rangers down and figuratively out, captain Mark Messier guaranteed a win in Game 6 and backed it up with a hat trick, setting the stage for the dramatic Game 7.

In one of the most tense Stanley Cup playoff games of all time, Brian Leetch put the Rangers up, 1-0, with a goal midway through the second period. The Rangers held on fiercely to the lead, only to see New Jersey's Valery Zelepukin score with 7.7 seconds remaining. Both teams had plenty of scoring chances into the second overtime before Matteau beat Martin Brodeur with a wraparound goal at 4:24, Matteau's second goal in a double overtime in that series.

The Rangers went on to defeat the Vancouver Canucks in a seven-game Final, their first Stanley Cup title since 1940.

2002: Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche Look up "bitter rivalry" in the dictionary and you'll see photos from this series.

The Avalanche won the 1996 Stanley Cup in their first year in Denver, after moving from Quebec City. They defeated the Florida Panthers after getting by the Detroit Red Wings in six games in the Western Conference Finals. The Red Wings returned the favor in 1997, beating Colorado in six games in the Western Final, en route to the Stanley Cup. Colorado beat Detroit in six games in the 1999 Western Conference Semifinals and again in five games in the 2000 conference semifinal. So, there is plenty of history here.

The teams met for the fifth time in seven years, in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, and produced five great games before Dominik Hasek shut out Colorado in the final two contests, en route to Detroit's third Stanley Cup championship in six years. Darren McCarty's third-period hat trick propelled Detroit to a 5-3, Game 1 victory in Detroit. Chris Drury scored the winner in overtime, Peter Forsberg had three assists and Patrick Roy stopped 30 shots as Colorado evened the series in Detroit with a 4-3 win in Game 2.

Defenseman Fredrik Olausson took a pass from Steve Yzerman and used Avalanche defenseman Martin Skoula to screen Roy for the Game 3 winner at 12:44 of overtime. Drury scored his second game-winner of the series in the third period of Game 4 and Colorado won the third-straight one-goal game of the series. Back in Detroit for Game 5, Forsberg scored the game-winner at 6:24 of overtime for a 2-1 victory. Detroit coach Scotty Bowman claimed Colorado's Brian Willsie was offside on Forsberg's breakaway during a Detroit line change, but Bowman was probably more upset from Brendan Shanahan hitting the goal post on a wide-open net with 1:40 left in regulation.

Detroit then outscored Colorado, 9-0, over the final two games but Game 6 is remembered for a massive brawl and Shanahan's game-winning goal with 38 seconds left in the first period. Roy held up his glove to show the world he had caught Yzerman's low shot. But he hadn't, it was laying in the crease. Shanahan slipped behind Roy and pushed the puck into the net. McCarty completed the scoring with an unassisted goal on a turnover in the third period. It was the first time Detroit had scored first in the series.

Roy collapsed after his mistake and took his team down with him. After his error, he gave up a goal on a teammate's mistake and then let in the first two shots he faced in Game 7, which turned into a 7-0 Detroit romp. Roy let in four first-period goals for the first time in 240 career playoff games. Brett Hull and Olausson scored in the second period, chasing Roy from the net.

Contact John McGourty at

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