In their third Game 7 meeting in five seasons, the most recent installment of Capitals vs. Rangers ended in numbing blowout fashion. The 5-0 thumping was the Caps' worst playoff loss since a 7-0 shutout at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins 13 years ago.
Though Braden Holtby battled through the series, keeping the Caps within one goal through their first three losses and shutting out New York in Game 2, the young netminder couldn't stop the Rangers in their pivotal win-or-go-home meeting, and his teammates couldn't bail him out for the second night in a row.
"We didn't put in the right effort for a Game 7 win. Everyone, especially myself," said Holtby after the contest.
Both sides appeared ready to test the netminders early. The Capitals took 13 shots on Henrik Lundqvist and had 13 blocked in the first period alone. Gambling to get on the board first, Mike Green jumped on an opportunity to streak down the ice and catch the Rangers off guard in his zone. Lundqvist thwarted Green's attempt and the subsequent rebound was quickly batted away from Tom Wilson, who was perfectly poised on the doorstep.
The strike quickly turned into a Rangers offensive thrust as Arron Asham collected the clear and launched a 41-foot counter attack right over Holtby's shoulder. It wasn't a great goal to give up, particularly against a goaltender averaging just one goal against in the last two games.
At the start of the second period, the Capitals' desperate attempts to get their offense going allowed the Rangers to capitalize once again.
Less than four minutes into the second, Derick Brassard led an odd-man rush down the left side and rang one off of Holtby's crossbar. The Caps reeled to set up on defense but allowed Derek Dorsett and Taylor Pyatt to camp out in the crease unmolested. Left alone with the pair in front of him Holtby stopped Steve Eminger's strike from the point only to have Pyatt slam home the rebound.
Just moments later the Rangers struck again as Michael Del Zotto got a friendly bounce off of Troy Brouwer's skate to put the Caps in a 3-0 hole less than midway through regulation.
"It's hard in the second, obviously, because they get two crazy bounces that end up in the net and I thought we were playing fairly well up until then," said Holtby. "It was just an unfortunate game for those bounces to happen."
It was a blow from which the Caps could not recover as time and time again the Rangers smothered shots and rebound attempts, spoiling 48 Caps chances and carrying a 3-0 lead into the second intermission.
Unfortunately for the Caps, New York wasn't finished.
Thirteen seconds into the third period Ryan Callahan stripped John Erskine of a puck in the neutral zone and made things look easy on his one-on-one showdown with Holtby. Mats Zuccarello would add one more before eliminating the Capitals in their most lopsided loss of the 2013 season.
Holtby got his first taste of Game 7 playoff hockey just last year resulting in a 1-1 record, a 1.48 GAA and .952 save percentage in the pair of pressure situations. Entering tonight's bought, Holtby averaged 1.77 goals against and one of the playoff's best save percentages at .938. He finished Game 7 with a brutal .815 save percentage after stopping 22 of the Rangers' 27 shots.
"We had the goaltending to go far we just didn't fill in the rest of the gaps," said Karl Alzner. "It would have been really nice for us to go a bit further for him, and for all of us, but he did everything we asked him to do. It's great to see him grow as a goaltender and a person."
"I think he's been playing great the whole srries and the whole season. He's a young, talented goalie and without him we wouldn't be here in the playoffs today," said Nicklas Backstrom, who registered just two points in the Caps' seven playoff games. "He's not the reason we lost. It's me, myself and the other players."