Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals in National Hockey League playoffs Game 7

Hours away from Pittsburgh and Washington colliding in the seventh and deciding game of their second-round National Hockey League playoff series, people are still talking about the health of Sidney Crosby. The Capitals won back-to-back games to force Game 7 at the Verizon Center, and look to have momentum on their side for the deciding game.

EXPERIENCED BLUESHIRTS: New York is facing elimination for the first time in these playoffs on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, and coach Alain Vigneault hopes the collective experience serves his team well.

"When you go in like that, it just kind of knocked the wind out of me", said Crosby, who played on and finished his shift. "We can wear them down a little bit more there".

The Pittsburgh Penguins were not able to hold on to their 2-1 lead that they garnered in the first two periods of Saturday's game five. The first three rallied Washington from a 2-1 deficit to keep its season alive. When the Caps fell to 3-1 after four games, many were left scratching their heads wondering how could Washington be outshooting Pittsburgh so badly and yet still be losing the series? Crosby once again made that assertion, telling reporters that a doctor evaluated him after the first period and decided he didn't need to be put into the concussion protocol.

"We had absolutely nothing to lose", Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom told reporters after Game 6. The Penguins reconfigured their lines, reuniting the HBK line of LW Carl Hagelin, C Nick Bonino and RW Phil Kessel that was highly effective a year ago in the playoffs. Though "HBK" was hardly the only group that had issues. Anyone who watched Crosby go headfirst into the boards late in the first period of Game 6 against the Washington Capitals had a hard time understanding how the concussion spotters, both at the PPG Paints Arena and in the player safety room in NY, could not have immediately ordered him off the Penguins' bench and off the ice for further observation.

"I don't know whether from coaching or playing whether you get into a mental block or not", said Bruce Boudreau, who coached in Game 7 four times with the Capitals and four times with the Ducks.

Consider the play symbolic of the way Washington has bottled up the Penguins while evening the series. And - and this might be most important - when they sensed proud Pittsburgh was wounded, they tore at the Penguins' festering flesh, spitting on them for good measure. Now they're doing neither. Over the past two games, Fleury has allowed nine goals and has just an 84.4 save percentage. Save for a couple of tight saves in the middle of Game 5 that kept the Capitals within striking distance, Holtby has rarely been tested.

"Backstrom is one of those guys who I think is one of the most underrated players in the National Hockey League", Trotz said. "But you have to give Washington credit too".

"We're just trying to shoot where there is open spot", Kuznetsov said.

But that chance is going to rest nearly entirely on Fleury being able to do something he has already done multiple times this postseason for the Penguins: Steal a game for them.

A 5-4 overtime loss Saturday - after the Senators scored the tying goal with 1:26 left in the third period on a shot that bounced off three Rangers before trickling across the goal line - put NY on the brink of elimination. Washington has not advanced to the Eastern Conference finals since 1998. These are the games in which they live to play.

  • Julie Sanders