- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2019

After 91 minutes of hockey, the Carolina Hurricanes finally put a dagger into the Washington Capitals‘ season.

Brock McGinn scored the double-overtime winner and the Hurricanes took Game 7 4-3 Wednesday at Capital One Arena, knocking the defending champions out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Capitals collapsed after leading 3-1 in the second period — and after holding series leads of 2-0 and 3-2.

The series-deciding goal came 11:05 into the second overtime, when McGinn tipped in a puck sent on net by former Capital Justin Williams. The assist was Williams’ 15th career point in Game 7s, extending his all-time record.

It finished off a Capitals team that had looked gassed for hours, and whose top-flight goaltender couldn’t keep carrying his teammates on his back. Braden Holtby made 38 saves, though he shouldered a lot of the blame for himself.

“It was obviously there to take,” Holtby said. “Myself, the group, we just weren’t good enough. I’ve got to come up with more saves in order to win the series and that’s pretty much the bottom line.”

The Hurricanes will face the New York Islanders — and Washington’s old coach, Barry Trotz — in the conference semifinals. The Capitals will start their summer earlier than they expected.

“Obviously, we thought the first two periods we dominate,” Alex Ovechkin said. “A couple lucky bounces and they’re in the game. But it was a great series, lots of toughness, lots of hard plays over there. Two teams playing each other, fighting for a win and in overtime you see it’s not a pretty goal. It hit the stick, hit the whatever and it goes in.”

One season after celebrating the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, the Capitals were knocked out of the postseason in just two weeks. They finished with the fourth-best regular season record in the NHL, despite a seven-game losing streak in January to enter the All-Star Break, and amid the transition from Trotz to Todd Reirden behind the bench.

But despite looking strong at various points of the series, the Capitals were unable to win a game on the Hurricanes‘ ice and needed a Game 7. It was their 12th Game 7 in the Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom era; their record in those games dropped to 4-8.

“It’s hard, especially after last year, but nothing you can do right now, right?” Ovechkin said.

“Every opportunity missed is devastating, really,” John Carlson said. “You only get to do this for so long and I’ve been fortunate to be on great teams. When you don’t do well, it’s more than ‘we were up in a series or a game.’ It’s everything. It hurts.”

Andre Burakovsky — who also scored two goals in the Capitals‘ previous Game 7, in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals — was fully responsible for the game’s opening goal, 2:13 into the game. In the Capitals‘ zone, he landed a hit on one Carolina player, took the puck away from another and deked a third before wristing it home from in front of the net.

Ovechkin was the next to show off. Receiving a Dmitry Orlov pass from behind the Washington net, Ovechkin spun past defenseman Dougie Hamilton by passing it off the boards to himself. He had to pull off another move to keep hold of the puck before feeding Tom Wilson at the far post for the goal.

But the Hurricanes got one back while shorthanded halfway through the second, as Sebastian Aho picked up the rebound of his own shot and potted it.

“It’s 2-0, they get a power play. If they score, it’s done,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “And then we get the shorthanded (goal). I think it just perked everybody up, like, ‘Hey, we’re still in the game.’”

The Capitals responded via Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored his first goal of the entire series. He poked the puck free in the neutral zone to create a 3-on-1 break, and Carl Hagelin sent it back to him in front to score.

But Carolina rallied back to draw even. Teuvo Teravainen sent a shot between John Carlson’s legs to score before the period was out, and Jordan Staal added the tying tally three minutes into the third frame.

The arena tightened with anxiety. Both sides saw a number of good chances, though Washington ended up outshooting Carolina 12-5 for the period. The Capitals had one puck fly straight across the crease, and another bounced off Petr Mrazek’s pad and tantalizingly close to the goal line before McGinn — about 90 minutes before scoring the game-winner — got his stick in to knock it to safety.

The Hurricanes had the first nine shots on goal of overtime, and the Capitals looked like the far more tired team. But Holtby staved Carolina off for a while, until the inevitable happened at about 11:30 p.m.

At 91:05, it was the third-longest Game 7 in NHL history.

“Both teams were [tired],” Backstrom said. “A lot of players played a lot of minutes. The same for everyone I think. But it’s obviously tough. Lot of credit to them, too. They never stopped playing. They’re a good team. They showed that this year, especially now in the playoffs, too.”

With the Capitals out, all four division champions were eliminated from the playoffs in round one for the first time in the history of the four major North American sports leagues.

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