Kuznetsov's Goal Leads Capitals Past Isles 2-1 in Game 7

The precocious Russian forward drafted in the first round by the Washington Capitals finally delivered a breathtaking, winning goal in a Game 7. No, not Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Skating around every opponent on the ice, Kuznetsov scored the go-ahead goal with 7:18 remaining, and Braden Holtby only needed to make 10 saves Monday night, lifting the Washington Capitals past the New York Islanders 2-1 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Kuznetsov, a rookie, scored the sort of athletic, breathtaking goal his better-known teammate, Ovechkin, often does, taking the puck from the right boards and heading across the ice before sending a rising shot over sprawling goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Joel Ward gave Washington a 1-0 lead late in the second period, and Frans Nielsen pulled New York even early in the third.

The Capitals now face the Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers, who eliminated Washington from the 2012 and 2013 playoffs — in Game 7 each time.

That's part of a long history of postseason failures for the Capitals, including never advancing beyond the second round since Ovechkin arrived and started earning MVP trophies and leading the NHL in goals year after year. This was the eighth time in 10 playoff series involving Ovechkin that went to a Game 7, and his team was only 2-5 in such contests until Monday.

Until Kuznetsov — a 22-year-old center taken with the No. 26 pick in 2010, six years after Ovechkin went No. 1 overall — came through, adding to the two goals and assist he had in Game 3.

The Islanders' loss ends their playing days at Nassau Coliseum, which opened in 1972. The team is moving to Brooklyn next season.

You have to go back 22 years to find a playoff series won by the Islanders, and that victory in 1993 came against — guess who? — the Capitals. Since then, New York has lost seven consecutive first-round series.

This was the first Game 7 of this year's NHL playoffs and it was a fitting conclusion to this particular matchup. Through the first six games, each team scored 14 goals. Each won on the road. Each won in overtime. And during the regular season, both finished with 101 standings points, and three of their four head-to-head meetings went to overtime.

Washington, though, controlled Monday's action, outshooting New York 26-11.

Picking up right where they left off Saturday, when a brawl broke out involving several players at the end of New York's 3-1 home win in Game 6, the teams immediately stirred up some mayhem.

All of 35 seconds into Game 7, a whole bunch of pushing and shoving right in front of Halak left his net dislodged all the way back to the boards, and knocked the helmet off Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck. Fifteen seconds later, Ovechkin and Colin McDonald were jabbing at each other before a faceoff. And a little more than a minute later, Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik was slamming Islanders captain John Tavares into the boards.

The Capitals finally broke through with 85 seconds left in the second period, thanks to Ward. Their team in the lead, the red-clad fans packing the arena rose and roared and clanged their cowbells. But the advantage didn't last long. Less than 3 1/2 minutes into the third period, the Islanders tied it on Nielsen's first goal of the playoffs.

After Kuznetsov put Washington back in front, there was one last bit of tension, when Capitals defenseman John Carlson was whistled for roughing with just under three minutes remaining. But the Capitals killed it off, making the Islanders 0 for 14 on power plays in the series.

Perhaps fueled by a combination of relief and elation, the crowd grew louder and louder as the final seconds ticked away.

NOTES: Paul Pierce, John Wall, Marcin Gortat and Rasual Butler of the NBA's Wizards sat in the front row, a night after sweeping the Raptors in the same arena. Pierce used both hands to bang on the glass when one New York player approached, just like any fan might do. ... Home teams were only 1-6 in Game 7s in last year's NHL playoffs.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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