Dale Hunter

Game 7 history for Ovechkin, Capitals

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Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs ends on Wednesday with the Washington Capitals hosting the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Stream here).

This series has already been a study in contrasts, and the “old vs. new” storyline really pops when you consider the Game 7 experience of both teams.

While the Hurricanes employ “Mr. Game 7” Justin Williams (a nickname that makes him grit his teeth, apparently), the team as a whole is mostly new to this. It says a lot, really, that current Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour was the team’s captain in 2008-09, which was the last time the Hurricanes a) made a playoff run and b) played in Game 7s.

While the Hurricanes recently broke a decade-long playoff drought, the Capitals have only missed the playoffs once (2013-14) since 2007-08, so if you want to get cute about it, this is almost the matchup of “Mr. Game 7 vs. Team Game 7s.”

Well, the Capitals are team Game 7s by volume, more than overall success. Now that we’ve acknowledged Justin Williams as Our Elimination Overlord, and recall that Jordan Staal‘s been here before – albeit a long time ago – let’s consider the Capitals’ recent history in these deciding games, with copious assistance from the all-around wonderful resource that is Hockey Reference.com.

2008 

April 22, first round: Flyers 3, Capitals 2 (OT) 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Nicklas Backstrom was on one of his hotter sniping runs then, as he is now, as the Swede scored his fourth goal of that postseason in this defeat. Alex Ovechkin got a goal and a primary assist, authoring the first chapter in his anthology of being scapegoated despite strong playoff play. Ovechkin finished the 2008 run with four goals and five assists for nine points in seven playoff games; so far during this 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Ovechkin has four goals and four assists for eight points in six contests.

Joffrey Lupul ended up scoring the overtime-clincher in that long-ago Game 7.

2009

April 28, first round: Capitals 2, Rangers 1

Some early evidence that Washington was able to grind out ugly, playoff-style wins, even then. While Backstrom nabbed an assist, this win was heavy on old names. Semyon Varlamov was only tasked with making 14 saves. Alexander Semin was a goal scorer and so was … Sergei Fedorov. Yes, in case you forgot, Fedorov briefly played for the Capitals.

May 13, second round: Penguins 6, Capitals 2

For some Caps fans, there are still scars from this loss.

After this series lived up to the hype for six games (remember dueling hat tricks between Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin?), the Game 7 match was mostly anticlimactic. Ovechkin had tormented Marc-Andre Fleury for much of that Round 2, yet MAF made a huge save early, and the Penguins scored the game’s first five goals to win handily. Ovechkin managed his 11th goal of that playoff run, but absorbed one of his earliest rounds of excessive playoff blame.

2010

April 28, first round: Canadiens 2, Capitals 1

Speaking of scarring moments …

The Capitals were a buzzsaw in 2009-10, until they ran into Jaroslav Halak, who enjoyed a spectacular run where he confounded both the Caps and the Penguins. Washington generated a gaudy 42-16 SOG advantage in this Game 7, yet the Habs completed their upset win thanks largely to Halak playing out of his mind.

It felt like Michael Cammalleri scored every Montreal goal during their run, but it was Marc-Andre Bergeron and Dominic Moore who scored in this Game 7. Ovechkin settled for an assist despite firing 10 of those 42 SOG.

This was the first Capitals Game 7 of the PHT era, so check out Ovechkin taking responsibility for his struggles.

2012

April 25, first round: Capitals 2, Bruins 1 (OT)

The Dale Hunter era was brief in Washington, and honestly … mercifully so. Those Capitals series were tough to watch, what with Ovechkin receiving reduced ice time, although it helped Braden Holtby write the first bullet points in what’s becoming an impressive playoff resume.

May 12, second round: Rangers 2, Capitals 1

Henrik Lundqvist got the best of Holtby and the Capitals in a close, clogged-up Game 7. Luckily, Barry Trotz helped the Capitals find a better balance between playing snug defense and still accentuating their offensive strengths, because the Hunter era was not pretty.

2013

May 13, first round: Rangers 5, Capitals 0

The Penguins rank as the Capitals’ biggest historic nuisance, but Henrik Lundqvist must come in a respectable second place, right? Lundqvist pitched a Game 7 shutout, prompting Backstrom to play into narrative hands by discussing the Capitals “learning to win in the playoffs.”

2015

April 27, first round: Capitals 2, Islanders 1

Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s had some time to perfect celebrations in big situations.

He’s really added that extra skilled player to the Capitals’ mix (along with T.J. Oshie), and Kuznetsov has a certain “ice water in his veins” tendency. It’s not his most famous goal, but Kuznetsov scored the game-winner in Game 7 against the Islanders here.

May 13, second round: Rangers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)

Ovechkin scored the first goal of Game 7, telling Lundqvist that it was going to be a long day. That was some fun trash talk, but it was Lundqvist who was laughing in the end, once again, after Derek Stepan scored the overtime game-winner. Holtby played admirably in defeat, as he’s been a reliable big-game performer for the Capitals for some time.

2017

May 10, second round: Penguins 2, Capitals 0

Remember when this was supposed to be the end of a window for Stanley Cup chances for Washington, or at least the Capitals’ best chances?

The Caps showed why they won a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy by gritting their way out of a 3-1 deficit against the Penguins, but that was forgotten once Washington lost this tight, heartbreaking game to Pittsburgh. This represented Fleury’s last moment of one-upping Ovechkin before he was Vegas-bound.

Trotz was shaken by the Game 7 loss and deflected questions about Ovechkin, etc. The next year became hockey history, but this sure seemed to put the wheels in motion for Trotz to leave, anyway, right?

2018

May 23, third round: Capitals 4, Lightning 0

Ovechkin scored what would stand as the game-winner just 62 seconds in, Tom Wilson collected two assists, and Andre Burakovsky‘s two second-period goals really iced this one (with Backstrom pitching in an empty-netter for good measure). Wilson also got into a fight, while Holtby managed a 29-save shutout. If there’s a BINGO board for the Capitals in Game 7 situations, then you’d probably win with that combination.

Who would have thought that the Lightning would suffer far greater heartache during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, by the way? (Too soon?)

***

As you can see, the Capitals’ big guns often show up in Game 7 contests, particularly Ovechkin and Holtby, yet they don’t always come away with those series wins. The Hurricanes might be wise to assume that they’ll only be able to contain, not stop, Ovechkin. The veteran star sure seems to begin his Game 7 performances with early goals, so that’s another situation to watch.

Overall, it should be a fun Game 7, even if it’s a familiar experience for the Capitals.

Hurricanes – Capitals Game 7 takes place at Capital One Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; Stream here).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Top dog: Beagle to Caps first line, Penner down to fourth

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Jay Beagle isn’t exactly a household name in the NHL, but now he’s Alex Ovechkin’s new first line center. At least according to what coach Adam Oates has done in practice recently that is.

As Katie Carrera of The Washington Post shares, injuries to Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski are forcing Oates to make some moves, and moving Beagle up to the top line is a curious one, but an opportunity he’s looking to take advantage of.

“It’s obviously what every player wants. I want to take this opportunity and I want to run with it,” Beagle said.  “You want to do the best you can not only for yourself , but for your team. We’re making a playoff push every point is so important, everyone is important.”

For the record, Beagle has two goals and seven points this season and has been mostly a fourth line center averaging 10:29 of ice time.

The playoff push is the thing here (they’re two points behind the New York Rangers for the second wild card) and Beagle getting top line duty isn’t the only curious move. Check out the lines they used in practice yesterday.

Nicklas Backstrom working with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Troy Brouwer seems like a way to balance out scoring amongst the top lines, but what’s up with Dustin Penner on the fourth line?

We’ve seen him demoted like this before with the Los Angeles Kings, but when he was picked up by the Caps at the trade deadline it was expected he’d be the left wing on Ovechkin’s line. Now he’s riding with AHL call-up Casey Wellman and rookie Tom Wilson.

If the moves work and the Caps come away with wins against L.A. and Anaheim, Oates will look like a genius. If not, this starts to look like a throwback to when Dale Hunter was running the show.

Caps GM McPhee calls Adam Oates “a blend of the two previous coaches”

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When the Capitals hired Adam Oates to be their head coach following Dale Hunter’s decision to return to London, Ontario, many wondered how he would do with a team in seeming discontent.

After a rocky start, Washington is turning the corner and playing more consistent. They’re two points out of eighth in the Eastern Conference and five back of Winnipeg in the Southeast Division. Caps GM George McPhee is happy with what Oates has done and says he’s a bit of a hybrid coach as Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com shares.

“Coaches have different approaches. There’s a certain way that I think we should do things that is sort of the middle ground with what the previous two coaches did. I think we’ve had some real good coaches here,” McPhee said.

“Having been able to hire Adam and take our time, I think we’ve got a blend of the two previous coaches.”

Washington’s slow start to the season is something that could wind up biting them in the end.

With Alex Ovechkin playing like the Ovi of old (eight goals, five assists in the last nine games) and mostly everyone being healthy (Michal Neuvirth excepted) things have turned around in such a way that making the playoffs is a more than realistic possibility. Not bad for a first-year coach.

Caps GM McPhee on Dale Hunter: “I didn’t expect him to play that defensively”

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Over at SB Nation, Ted Starkey relays some intriguing quotes from Washington GM George McPhee’s recent speaking engagement — most notably, McPhee’s thoughts on his former head coach, Dale Hunter.

Here’s McPhee:

“With Dale Hunter, for example, I didn’t expect him to play that defensively. Once we got going, I allowed the coaches to coach the way they wanted to coach.

“Their necks are on the line, I don’t want to be telling them what to do and turn around and fire them for making the wrong decisions. It’s your team, do what you have to do. I try not to talk about what I’m seeing unless they ask.”

Pretty frank admission, no?

Credit to McPhee for not meddling, but it seems wild he’d hire (and continue to employ) Hunter without even discussing the team’s style of play.

Had Hunter been winning, sure, the hands-off approach is great — but the Caps were basically a .500 team under his regime (okay, 30-23-7, and I’m counting the shootout losses as real losses) before gaining a bit of steam in the playoffs (where they performed admirably, but still finished 7-7.)

All this said, and reading firmly between the lines, one can conclude that while McPhee didn’t expect Hunter to play so defensively, he certainly liked it.

When Hunter announced that he was leaving the team, McPhee said he “loved everything about Dale” and praised how Hunter “really taught club the ‘how’ of winning.”

All of which leads to the big, pressing question: Will he employ the same hands-off approach with Adam Oates?

Michal Neuvirth sounds off on Semin, Ovechkin, and Dale Hunter

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Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth decided to spice up the offseason by speaking his mind on Alexander Semin, Alex Ovechkin, and Dale Hunter in an interview with a Czech website. Caps blog Russian Machine Never Breaks translated the story and boy did Neuvirth speak his mind.

On Semin:

“If Semin wanted to, he could have been the best player in the world, but he doesn’t want to every day. And that’s wrong.”

On Ovechkin:

“He isn’t what he used to be, that’s for sure. And if a team like ours wants to have a chance in Stanley Cup, we need Ovi to be the best. We all expect that from him; he has to be the real leader. But it’s hard you know, he achieved everything as a player. He was on absolute top, and then one can only fall down. I just hope that Ovi will stop falling and instead stops and maybe tries to get back on top.”

On Hunter:

“I don’t know, he simply didn’t talk to us goalies at all, I think he criticized us sometimes for no reason. From my point of view, it’s good he left.”

The stuff on Semin isn’t surprising since we’ve heard it already from Matt Bradley (and backed up by David Steckel). Getting an honest take like that on Ovechkin, however, should earn Neuvirth a few head-high slap shots in practice.

Neuvirth also said he’s looking forward to the Adam Oates era in Washington. Gee, I wouldn’t have guessed. Safe to say training camp, whenever that starts, should be interesting.