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Kuznetsov, Capitals win Game 7 against Islanders

by Brian Compton /

WASHINGTON -- Game 7 hasn't been kind historically to the Washington Capitals, but they made sure there wouldn't be a premature ending to their season on Monday.

Evgeny Kuznetsov broke a tie with 7:18 remaining and the Capitals held the New York Islanders to 11 shots on goal in a 2-1 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Verizon Center.

The Capitals, who were 3-9 in Game 7 entering Monday, advance to face the New York Rangers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The start of that series is to be determined.

Kuznetsov, who scored two goals earlier in the series, made a fantastic move to get around Islanders center Frans Nielsen before roofing a wrist shot over goalie Jaroslav Halak from the slot.

But the Capitals are advancing mainly because they saved their best defensive effort for the final game of the best-of-7 series.

"They had 11 shots. That says it all right there," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "We stayed in the game plan, and we talked about no matter what happens in the series because we were so evenly matched, leave our best game out there and if it wasn't good enough tonight, we could live with that. But if it was good enough, then we'll get a chance to move on. I thought that was our best game [of the series], and we let it all out there, and full credit to the whole group."

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby made 10 saves.

"It was a phenomenal game," Holtby said. "It's the best I've seen us play, everybody. It was an effort that probably should have been more than 2-1 with the way we played, but start to finish, it was the game we've been trying to groom all year, and it should do us a lot of confidence that we can play a full 60 [minutes]."

Nielsen scored for the Islanders, who have gone 22 years without a playoff series win and will not get to host another game at Nassau Coliseum.

"It just seemed like we didn't want to make a mistake," said Islanders captain John Tavares, who did not have a shot on goal. "In all three zones, we just weren't aggressive enough in the first two periods. But in saying that, we were 1-1 with 10 minutes to go. You have to make some plays down the stretch. We had some chances. Obviously we didn't make enough. They got the goal and we didn't."

Halak made 24 saves. He entered 4-0 with a .977 save percentage when facing elimination against the Capitals and was 2-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .963 save percentage in Game 7s.

After dominating for much of the first two periods, the Capitals finally broke through when Joel Ward scored with 1:25 remaining in the second period. Brooks Orpik took a slap shot from the left point that Halak denied, but Ward battled for position against Johnny Boychuk in front of the net and poked the rebound between Halak's skates for his first goal of the playoffs.

"You want to be in that moment," Ward said. "You want to make plays and you want to be that guy. I just happened to get a few bounces and got to put it in."

Washington outshot New York 12-4 in the second period. The Islanders had seven shots on goal through 40 minutes.

"He gave us a chance to win the game when we probably didn't have any business having a chance of winning the game," Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck said of Halak. "He was great."

Nielsen, who hadn't scored in the series, tied it 3:13 into the third. He took a pass from Thomas Hickey and let go a soft wrist shot that found its way between Holtby's skates to make it 1-1.

Halak made up for what could have been a devastating gaffe three minutes later, when he went to pursue a puck behind his net. But the puck hit the end boards awkwardly to Jay Beagle, who looked to have an open net only to have Halak slide back to kick out the shot with his right pad.

"After that, I thought we were going to come out and score a goal," Halak said. "It's just too bad and obviously disappointing."

The Islanders had the only power play of the game with 2:54 remaining when Capitals defenseman John Carlson was called for roughing. New York went 0-for-14 with the man-advantage in the series.

"The theme for us all year long, the power play has been there for us," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "You can't go through a series [without a power-play goal]. We didn't get a goal from our defensemen."

And where the Islanders couldn't generate offense from their blue line, the Capitals did. Carlson assisted on Kuznetsov's goal and finished with a goal and three assists in the series.

"We wanted to come out at home strong," Carlson said. "I think we had a good start, and I think from there we just took care of the puck. We did the right things breaking out, and that's why our execution was way better than in the games we failed. I think that's a testament to everyone that stepped their game up, and that's why we looked so much better."

Halak made two big saves in the first 35 seconds, denying Karl Alzner from the left circle before Tom Wilson had a chance in the slot.

Washington outshot New York 10-3 in the first period.

"I just thought they did a better job of executing than we did," Islanders forward Kyle Okposo said. "We just weren't clean all night, squeezing it a little bit. All they did was chip the puck and rim the puck. It's not like they did anything special. We were just kind of stuck in mud a little bit. It's unfortunate."

The Capitals nearly got on the board with more than eight minutes remaining in the second period when Curtis Glencross had a chance to put Mike Green's rebound past Halak. With an open net to shoot at, Glencross couldn't get enough on his shot.

Glencross was inserted into the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous three games. Michael Latta was scratched.


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