Here they are again, the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, in a Game 7, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, for the fourth time in the past seven seasons.
There was some doubt it would happen again this year; the Capitals took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round series, but the Rangers rallied to win Game 5 in overtime and held on to win Game 6 in regulation to force the series back to Madison Square Garden for Game 7 on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Rangers have won five consecutive Game 7s, going back to the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators. Two of those Game 7 wins have come against the Capitals, including 5-0 in the 2013 conference quarterfinals.
Washington has won two of its past four Game 7s, including 2-1 against the New York Islanders in the first round this year.
New York is 13-3 in its past 16 games when facing elimination, including 7-1 in six playoff rounds under coach Alain Vigneault. The Capitals are 3-10 in their past 13 games when they have the ability to close a series, including 1-3 under coach Barry Trotz this season.
The following seven matchups could decide who moves on to the Eastern Conference Final:
1. Holtby vs. Lundqvist -- The goalie matchup in the series has been exceptional, with the only hiccup coming in Game 6 when there were a combined seven goals on 73 shots. The Capitals' Braden Holtby and the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist allowed a combined 15 goals on 311 shots in Games 1-5.
Lundqvist was under siege in Game 6 and finished with 42 saves; Holtby allowed four goals on 28 shots. Lundqvist has a .941 save percentage and 1.80 goals-against average in the series; Holtby has a .944 save percentage and 1.81 GAA.
The historical edge in Game 7s goes to Lundqvist, who is as much the King of Game 7s as he is the King of New York, at least by nickname.
Lundqvist has allowed four goals in winning an NHL-record five consecutive Game 7s, including two against the Capitals, going back to the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. He has a .965 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average in six Game 7s.
The Capitals defeated Lundqvist and the Rangers 2-1 in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, when Lundqvist made 22 saves.
Holtby is 2-2 with a .911 save percentage and 2.23 GAA in Game 7, including a 10-save win against the New York Islanders in the first round. He is 0-2 with seven goals allowed on 58 shots in two Game 7s against the Rangers, including that 5-0 loss in the 2013 conference quarterfinals.
2. Ovechkin and Backstrom vs. McDonagh and Girardi -- The Rangers have done a masterful job on Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in the past five games. Top defense pair Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have had a lot to do with it, especially at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers can get the matchups they want because of the last-change advantage.
Ovechkin scored in each of the first two games of the series but has no goals on 17 shots in the past four. Backstrom had an assist on Joel Ward's winning goal with 1.3 seconds remaining in Game 1 but does not have a point in the past five games.
McDonagh and Girardi figure to see plenty of Ovechkin and Backstrom in Game 7 because that's the Rangers' preferred matchup.
3. New York's penalty kill vs. Washington's power play -- Part of the reason Ovechkin and Backstrom have been so quiet is the Rangers penalty kill has been better than the Capitals power play, which was first in the NHL during the regular season, including 4-for-13 in four games against the Rangers.
Washington is 0-for-10 on the power play in the past five games and 1-for-12 in the series. It was 0-for-4 with five shots on goal in Game 6.
The key to the Rangers' success on the penalty kill is how close they are playing Ovechkin. They've been taking away the time he has to receive a pass and the space he has to shoot. That also is taking away Backstrom, who thrived during the regular season setting up the power play from the half wall.
4. Washington's revamped second line vs. Rangers' adjustment to it -- Ovechkin and Backstrom won't feel as much pressure to score in Game 7 if the Capitals' new-look second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward stays as hot as it was in Game 6, when each member of that line scored.
It'll be interesting to see how the Rangers adjust to the skill (Kuznetsov), speed (Chimera) and strength (Ward) that line possesses because they had no answer Sunday.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz put the line together at the start of the second period and they had three goals on 11 shots and 17 total shot attempts. They had eight of Washington's 18 shots on goal in the second period.
Chimera sliced New York's lead to 2-1 with his goal 28 seconds into the second period off assists from Kuznetsov and Ward. Kuznetsov made it 4-2 at 7:40 of third period; Ward had the secondary assist. Ward made it 4-3 at 10:33; Chimera had the primary assist.
The key to the line's success was its ability to sustain a down-low cycle game. They had the Rangers pinned in their zone on many occasions and wound up with chances in the slot. All three goals came from the slot area.
If the Rangers are going to continue to focus on shutting down Ovechkin and Backstrom with McDonagh and Girardi, it should open an opportunity for Kuznetsov, Chimera and Ward to go to work against defenseman Marc Staal and either Dan Boyle or Kevin Klein.
Staal was a minus-10 in even-strength shot attempts (SAT) in Game 6, according to War-on-Ice.com. He is minus-44 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, though he starts a greater percentage of his 5-on-5 shifts in the defensive zone. Klein was a minus-14 in Game 6 according to War-on-Ice.com and is a minus-11 against Washington.
5. Nash vs. his postseason demons --
Left Wing - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 39 | +/-: 3
Rangers left wing Rick Nash
, who had 42 goals in the regular season, scored his first goal of the series and second of the playoffs 54 seconds into the third period Sunday to put the Rangers up 3-1.
Nash admitted scoring the goal was a weight off his shoulders, but now he has to build on it. He's never been able to do it in the past.
Nash had one goal on a Rangers-high 38 shots on goal through the first 10 games in the playoffs. He hadn't scored on his first 20 shots against Washington; his goal came on his 21st shot. He had one shot on goal and two shot attempts in Game 6.
Scoring in the postseason has been an issue for Nash during his NHL career. He had five goals on 138 shots in 41 playoff games entering this season. He scored three goals on 83 shots in 25 playoff games last season and one goal on 42 shots in 12 playoff games in 2013. He has two goals on 39 shots in the 2015 playoffs.
Nash's postseason shooting percentage is 4.0 percent, which is 8.5 percentage points lower than his regular-season shooting percentage (12.5).
As Nash repeatedly has said, he is paid to score goals. When he's not doing he feels like he is letting down his teammates and the organization.
He scored an important goal in Game 6, which arguably was his worst game of the playoffs. The Rangers have to hope it's enough to start him on a hot streak.
6. Washington's aggressive forecheck vs. New York's breakout -- When the Capitals have attacked the Rangers with physicality on the forecheck it has led to turnovers, sustained pressure in the offensive zone, and some goals. That is the key to slowing down the Rangers, who arguably are the fastest team in the NHL when given a small sliver of space and time to break out of the defensive zone.
The Capitals aggressively forechecked starting with the first shift in the second period Sunday and Chimera scored 28 seconds into the period. They outshot New York 18-4 in the second and had a 35-14 edge in total shot attempts.
After falling behind 4-1 on defenseman Dan Boyle's goal at 15:36 of the third period, the Capitals turned it on again by getting the puck in deep, cycling when they had it and hitting to create turnovers when they didn't. Washington outshot the Rangers 10-0 and had 34 shot attempts to the Rangers' one after Boyle's goal.
The Capitals outshot the Rangers 45-28 and had a 96-55 edge in shot attempts in Game 6, including 70-23 in the final 40 minutes.
The difference was New York built a three-goal lead and blocked 16 of Washington's 34 attempts in the last 15:36 of the third period, when Washington got 10 shots on goal, including four in the final 9:27 after Ward made it 4-3.
The fact the Capitals were so successful in dominating possession during the final 40 minutes of Game 6 is a big reason they're so confident heading into Game 7.
7. Red-hot and powerful Kreider vs. everyone in red and white -- Chris Kreider, the Rangers' second-line left wing, has been a dominant power forward in the series and has four goals, including two in the first minute of games. The four goals have come in New York's three wins.
Kreider gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead in Game 6 by scoring 40 seconds into the first period and with 1.3 seconds remaining in it. He gave the Rangers a chance to extend the series with his game-tying goal at 18:19 of the third period in Game 5; the Rangers won 2-1 in overtime. He also scored at 38 seconds of the first period in Game 2, a 3-2 win for the Rangers.
The Capitals have not had an answer for Kreider, who leads the Rangers with 16 playoff goals since making his NHL debut in Game 3 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Senators.
Kreider has overwhelmed the Capitals with his speed and power. They have to keep Kreider on the outside and can't let him chase pucks in open ice because he is faster than everyone in the series save for maybe Rangers third-line left wing Carl Hagelin.