Sportsbook NHL Elimination Game
No. 7 WASHINGTON CAPITALS at No. 1 NEW YORK RANGERS
Sportsbook Line & Total: New York -140 & 4.5 over -135
The Washington Capitals look to complete yet another stunning seven-game upset by knocking off the top-seeded New York Rangers when they head to Madison Square Garden for a decisive Game 7 on Saturday night.
Both teams successfully survived the first round with Game 7 victories-the Rangers defeated the eight-seed Senators 2-1 at MSG and the Caps knocked off the defending champion Bruins in a 2-1 overtime thriller. With the win over Ottawa, the Blueshirts improved to 4-0 all-time in Game 7s at the Garden, but have lost two consecutive playoff series to the Caps, including a Game 7 defeat in D.C. in 2009. On one hand, this series has been extremely tight and even played, with neither team able to win two games in a row. But on the other hand, the Rangers needed a dramatic triple-overtime win in Game 3 and some last-second heroics in Game 5 just to get to this point, while the Caps won all three of their games in regulation. The pressure falls squarely on New York's shoulders, but they hold two decisive advantages in this game: the power of last change and Henrik Lundqvist. Look for Rangers' head coach John Tortorella to get favorable matchups for his forward lines thanks to home ice advantage, and expect Lundqvist to live up to his Vezina and Hart Trophy nominations and carry the Rangers into the Conference Finals.
Just like the Capitals' first round series against the Bruins, Washington has won each and every game against the Rangers by the slimmest of margins-one goal. The Caps suffered one of the most heart-wrenching defeats of the playoffs in Game 5-Washington led 2-1 for almost all of the third period before allowing New York C Brad Richards to score the game-tying goal with just 6.6 seconds remaining in regulation and eventually losing in the first two minutes of overtime on a power play tally by D Marc Staal.
The Capitals bounced back in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 2-1 victory in Game 6, dominating the Rangers from start to finish. New York has struggled mightily at even-strength, scoring only one five-on-five goal in the last seven periods of regulation play, and just four total five-on-five goals since a 3-1 victory in Game 1.
What looked like Washington's biggest weakness heading into the playoffs has now turned into one of its biggest strengths. The coolest customer on the Washington roster continues to be 22-year-old goaltender Braden Holtby (1.94 GAA, .933 SV Pct. in playoffs). The AHL call-up has been the Capitals' most important player, showing a maturity and poise well beyond his years. In 29 career NHL games, Holtby has not lost back-to-back games.
For all of the never-ending scrutiny Caps' superstar LW Alex Ovechkin receives, the Washington captain continues to shine. Ovi leads the Capitals in postseason points with five goals and four assists, and tied Peter Bondra for the franchise-lead in postseason goals (30) with his first period tally in Game 6. In 49 career playoff games, Ovechkin has 29 goals and 29 assists for an incredible 1.18 points per game average. Much of the talk of this series has focused on the ice time-or lack thereof-of the Capitals' captain, but Ovechkin has embraced his role in Dale Hunter's system, and his team is now one win away from advancing to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.
The Rangers have struggled to generate offense in this series despite outshooting the Capitals 180-156 in six games. The past two games in particular, New York outshot Washington 69-51 but barely escaped with even one win. New York will need more depth scoring beyond its top duo of Richards and RW Marian Gaborik, who have combined for six goals and five assists in this series-accounting for nearly half of the Blueshirts' 13 goals.
New York has controlled zone time in this series, with the majority of play tilted into the Capitals' zone, but Washington has created more quality scoring chances. Most of the Rangers' shots have come from the perimeter or with little traffic in front of Holtby, allowing the rookie netminder to make easy saves. If the Rangers can get more bodies in front, they could rattle the young goaltender and pull out the decisive victory on Saturday.