04/23 15:32 CDT Defending champion Caps face 'Mr. Game 7' and the Hurricanes
Defending champion Caps face 'Mr. Game 7' and the Hurricanes
By STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Hockey Writer
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) --- Justin Williams doesn't lose in Game 7. Except that one
The player who earned the "Mr. Game 7" moniker for going 7-0 with seven goals
and seven assists in winner-take-all situations lost in a Game 7 for the first
time with the Washington Capitals in 2017. Now he's back as captain of the
Carolina Hurricanes looking to hand his most recent team another crushing
playoff loss in a catalog full of them.
"You learn a lot about people when it's win or go home, when it's us or them,"
Williams said. "Anything can happen next game, and we're happy to be playing
The Capitals blew a chance to eliminate the Hurricanes on the road Monday and
will now host Game 7 at home Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN). After
Washington exorcised its demons against Pittsburgh, won Game 7 of the Eastern
Conference final at Tampa Bay and lifted the Stanley Cup last year, there isn't
the same doom and gloom hovering over a franchise that for years fell short of
Coach Todd Reirden, who was Barry Trotz's top assistant the past four seasons,
believes this is another chance for his team to make a statement that the "Oh,
no" fears of the past are gone.
"When you don't have success for a number of continued years
back-to-back-to-back of not having that success, then it can't help but creep
into your mind," Reirden said Tuesday. "I'm hoping the opposite will happen
During the Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom era that saw the team's first
playoff appearance in 2008, the Capitals are 4-7 in Game 7; that includes a 3-4
record with goaltender Braden Holtby in net dating to 2012 and 2-2 since the
bulk of this core group started playing together in 2015.
The Capitals could have 17 players on the ice Wednesday who were part of a 4-0
Game 7 victory at the Lightning last year. That doesn't hurt.
"We've been here before," 2018 playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly said. "We've
done it before. I think that's everyone's mindset. I don't think there's going
to be nerves or anything like that. We've already been through all this kind of
stuff. It's just going to be: prepare like it's any other game and try and play
If Carolina brings its best and pulls off the upset, it will mark the first
time in NHL history that all four division champions lose in the first round
after Tampa Bay, Nashville and Calgary were already eliminated. Reirden wants
his players to enjoy the excitement of a Game 7, and Hurricanes coach Rod
Brind'Amour can tell his guys to empty the tank after getting this far.
"Everybody knows there's one team going home after the game," Brind'Amour said.
"You just know this is it. There is no tomorrow. You're not playing these guys
again. Let it all out there."
In the first playoff series between the Capitals and Hurricanes, this will also
be the first Game 7 with two rookie coaches since 1990. It's the 17th overall
in Washington franchise history and the eighth for Carolina.
For Holtby, who has a 2.29 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in
Game 7s in the NHL, none of the previous situations matter this time.
"Every game is different," Holtby said. "You take what you learned in a series,
and you put it all into one game. You approach it as if you're going to play
your best game in any situation. You don't put too much pressure on yourself,
but you go out and do everything you can to help the team win."
Winning for the Capitals looks like Holtby being himself, Ovechkin and
Backstrom continuing their strong series and potentially someone like Evgeny
Kuznetsov, Jakub Vrana or trade-deadline pickup Carl Hagelin stepping up. With
a personal 8-1 record in Game 7, Hagelin is tied for the most victories of any
player in that situation.
Williams can join that club by knocking off the team he spent two seasons with
but never got past the second round. For the Hurricanes to get into the second
round, it might mean goalie Petr Mrazek doing to the Capitals what Jaroslav
Halak did in Game 7 with Montreal in 2010 by making 40-plus saves --- or
potentially another heroic playoff performance from Williams, who still has a
chance to add to his legend.
"He lives for these moments," Brind'Amour said. "He's just risen to the
occasion. You know everyone can have a couple games and you say, 'Oh, good,'
but he's done it for a long time, so obviously we're hoping he's got one more
left in him."
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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