Just 28 times in the previous 290 NHL playoff series had a team down 3-1 come back to win, and while the Penguins sure made it interesting by letting the Capitals back in their second round series, Pittsburgh prevailed, 2-0, in Washington on Wednesday night. They’ll take on the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference final on Saturday.
But tonight, once again, Pittsburgh had the favor of knocking the Capitals out of the playoffs in the second round.
The big takeaway from Game 7 is the Caps once again failing to win in the second round, and once again leaving the NHL playoffs without even a whiff of the Stanley Cup despite ending the regular season as one of the best teams in the league.
Pittsburgh scored once in the second period and once in the third on two bad Washington mistakes, as the Caps were twice unable to clear the puck out of their own zone, leading directly to goals for Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist, respectively.
And yet, amidst the underlying story of the Capitals choking at home again, and the Penguins knocking out their division rival in the playoffs again, and Sidney Crosby being the best player in the career-long tete-a-tete with Alex Ovechkin again, and maybe Evgeni Malkin being better than both of them, at least in the playoffs again, and how the Penguins won Game 7 again, and all the again and again and again the Pens and Caps have had in these seven games, the biggest again was surely Fleury’s stellar night, stopping every shot that came his way, again.
Fleury saved 29 of 29 shots in Game 7, with 25 coming at even strength, one on the power play and three shorthanded.
The Capitals were peppering the Penguins’ net all night, with 15 shots in the first period, 19 in the second period and seven in the third, according to Yahoo Sports. And through it all, the guy who wasn’t even supposed to be on the ice during the playoffs for Pittsburgh, stood tall yet again.
Fleury is 8-4 in the playoffs this season and recorded his first shutout during this run at the perfect time. After two games in which he had a paltry .875 and .808 save percentage, both Pens losses, Fleury rebounded with a perfect game, leading the Penguins into the Eastern Conference final for the second-straight season.
Now comes the hardest decision of the entire season, as Matt Murray was healthy enough to serve as Fleury’s backup in Game 7. Will the Penguins’ starter get his job back, or will Mike Sullivan ride the hot goalie for another round? And how crazy is this season mirroring last year, in reverse?
Through two rounds, Fleury has been a Penguins hero. It will be hard to bench him now, even if it might be the right time to do it.