The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t thrilled with the path they’ve traveled to get to Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Washington Capitals, but the road ultimately has been kind at the end of their previous trips. Pittsburgh sports a perfect 5-0 record on the road in its previous Game 7 clashes heading into Wednesday’s winner-take-all clash with Washington at the Verizon Center.
“These are the games that you live to play in. It’s exciting hockey. Both teams have to win,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who saw his team outscored 9-4 en route to dropping consecutive contests to join the Capitals in being pushed to the brink of elimination. Pittsburgh does own a 2-0 mark in Games 7s in Washington, with a 6-2 rout in the conference semifinal series in 2009 spurring the club on to its third of four Stanley Cup titles. While the Penguins’ 8-7 all-time mark in Game 7s trumps that the Capitals (4-10), the latter boasts a 2-1 mark in series in which it has rallied from a 3-1 series deficit. Washington also boasts the presence of the appropriately nicknamed “Mr. Game 7” Justin Williams, who has recorded seven goals and as many assists, and owns a perfect 7-0 mark in Game 7s in his career.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS: Evgeni Malkin isn’t letting his team’s recent fortunes cloud his thinking as Pittsburgh has its third and final chance to record the fourth victory of the series. “We won three games before. It’s just one more game,” the 30-year-old Russian said on Tuesday, one day after scoring a goal to extend his point streak to five games (three goals, four assists) while increasing his playoff total to a league-best 18 points (five goals, 13 assists). Fellow forward Jake Guentzel extended his franchise record for goals by a rookie in a single postseason with his league-leading ninth on Monday and also tied Jaromir Jagr (1991) for most points (13) by a Penguins rookie in a single postseason.
ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Coach Barry Trotz was matter of fact with his response as to why he elected to “demote” Alex Ovechkin to the third line in favor of Andre Burakovsky. “Sometimes you just have to try because if you don’t try then you may regret it in the end,” the 54-year-old Trotz said on Tuesday, one day after the 22-year-old Burakovsky collected his second straight multi-point performance with a pair of goals in a 5-2 romp. Play-making pivot Nicklas Backstrom recorded his third multi-point effort of the series with a goal and an assist and has a team-leading 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in these playoffs and 24 in 24 playoff games over the past two seasons.
1. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby set up a goal in back-to-back contests to give him six points (two goals, four assists) in five games of this series and 13 points (four goals, nine assists) this postseason.
2. Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov notched a pair of assists in Game 6 to increase his point total to six (three goals, three assists) during his four-game point streak.
3. Pittsburgh LW Carl Hagelin sports a 7-1 mark in eight career Game 7s while C Matt Cullen is 5-0.
PREDICTION: Capitals 4, Penguins 2