NHL Playoffs 2017: Predictions for Washington-Pittsburgh Game 7

May 6, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (65) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in game five of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
May 6, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (65) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in game five of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche’s second Stanley Cup provides rationale for why the Washington Capitals are likely to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7.

It’s the second round of the 2017 NHL Playoffs, and the Colorado Avalanche weren’t even invited to the dance. Well, that’s ok. Avs fans can still appreciate some good hockey.

Some people don’t like the format of the NHL Playoffs because really good match ups happen too early in the action. For example, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets faced off in the first round, which resulted in a strong team (Columbus) getting eliminated early. That can cut down on the quality of hockey being played down the stretch.

That’s happening right now in the series between the Washington Capitals and those reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. This is a game that will probably determine which team represents the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Yet it’s playing out in the second round.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are to the Washington Capitals a little what the Minnesota Wild are to the Colorado Avalanche, only on a higher stage. No matter how good the Capitals are, they can’t seem to get past the Penguins.

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Last year, the Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy. Captained by their dominant superstar, Alex Ovechkin, and with a stellar supporting cast that included winger TJ Oshie and goalie Braden Holtby, they looked poised to make team history and go the distance to the Stanley Cup.

Indeed, the Capitals marched into the 2016 NHL Playoffs like gladiators. They took a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers rallied back for a couple games, but Washington eliminated them in Game 6.

And then the Pittsburgh Penguins happened. You can never discount a Pittsburgh Penguins team led by their dominant superstar, Sidney Crosby, and a stellar supporting cast including winger Evgeny Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang.

Pittsburgh finished the Capitals in six exciting, closely contested games.

As is happening this year, that second-round series determined who represented the East in the Finals. Indeed, it determined who won the Stanley Cup.

For a while, it looked like this year’s second round playoff match up wasn’t going to be any different. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy. They embarrassed the Colorado Avalanche near the end of the season. (5-3 in a one-sided game this year, 4-2 in a one-sided game last year.) They marched past the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs in five games in the playoffs.

And then they came across their old nemesis again, the Penguins. And this playoff series looked likely to go the way of last year’s. Washington looked to be barely limping along. It seemed the only way they could win a game was by injuring superstar Sidney Crosby. And even that didn’t work because they ended up losing the next game despite Crosby not playing.

(Did Sidney Crosby get another concussion in Game 6?)

The Washington Capitals were on the verge of elimination in Game 5. They looked ready to have to lose in front of their home crowd yet again. Instead, they executed some of the most exciting hockey of the NHL Playoffs.

Sidney Crosby was back, but Alex Ovechkin was the dominant one. Or, more to the point, Braden Holtby held Crosby and his crew off in a flawless third period that saw Ovechkin and his crew get three goals.

Ah, well, play was returning to Pittsburgh with the Penguins enjoying a 3-2 series lead. The reigning champs could win the series in front of the home crowd.

Instead, the reigning champs were embarrassed by a charged up Washington team. The Capitals were relentless. Even when they had a 3-0, 4-0 lead, 5-0 lead, they kept coming. The Penguins were able to sneak in a couple goals late in the third period, but…

Something I remember from when the Colorado Avalanche were regulars in the playoffs was momentum. Once a team had it, there was no stopping them.

Remember the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals? The Colorado Avalanche were facing the old Colorado team, now the New Jersey Devils. Colorado was such a force back then, but this was the Stanley Cup playoffs. And the Devils had Martin Brodeur in net. (I mean, the Avalanche had somebody kind of decent in net, too. I think his name was Patrick Roy?)

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Anyway, the teams were so good that it didn’t seem to matter where they were playing. Each team won one and lost one at home in the first four games. Then the Devils took what could have been a pivotal Game 5, 4-1. The series returned to New Jersey. This could be it for Colorado.

No, really, who did the Avs have in net? Because that GOAT (Greatest of All Time) threw a shutout in the opponents’ building. The Avalanche won a dominating 4-0 game in New Jersey.

I bring this up because I remember thinking at the time that only New Jersey fans could still think their team had a chance at winning the Stanley Cup. They’d had the momentum after Game 5. But the GOAT of goalies stole it away from them.

The Colorado Avalanche had the momentum going into Game 7. Game 7 in the NHL Playoffs is the most exciting hockey possible. There is literally nothing better in the hockey world.

Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals, well, that’s the pinnacle of pinnacles.

Next: 2nd Round Playoff Predictions

Anyway, that’s not what’s coming up between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, not exactly. It’s just a round two match up. The winner still has to get past the winner of the Ottawa Senators-New York Rangers series to advance to the Finals.

Yet this series will probably determine who goes to the Finals and maybe even who wins it all. And it’s going to Game 7. And even though neither team has a Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy in net, there is one team that has the momentum.

That team is the Washington Capitals. They’re coming off a dominating two games. That’s why I predict the Washington Capitals will beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 and advance to the NHL Playoffs’ semifinals series.