The defending Stanley Cup champions are still alive.
The Pittsburgh Penguins went into Verizon Center on Wednesday and earned a 2-0 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series. Pittsburgh lost two straight contests after seizing a 3-1 lead but redeemed itself with a critical performance on the road, spearheaded by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
As for Washington, the defeat means more of the same considering it hasn't advanced past the second round since the 1997-98 season, when it lost the Stanley Cup Final.
Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist scored Pittsburgh's two goals, but Fleury—who missed most of last year's playoff run to the championship with an injury and received an opportunity this year because of Matt Murray's injury—was the story.
He saved all 29 Washington shots and was comfortable in the heart-pounding moments, as Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post noted after he turned away one of Alexander Ovechkin's powerful shots:
Drew Magary of Deadspin and Michael Jenkins of CSN offered explanations for his brilliance:
Fleury's counterpart, Braden Holtby, made a number of impressive saves as well, but his defense let him down multiple times as he failed to match the shutout.
The Pens stopper was the micro obstacle for the Capitals on Wednesday, but Pittsburgh has served as the macro obstacle in the big picture. The Penguins have eliminated the Capitals in the second round two straight years even though Washington had the best record in the NHL both times.
What's more, Pittsburgh owns a commanding 9-1 advantage in playoff series against its Metropolitan Division rivals.
Holtby did his best to change that narrative out of the gate when he and Fleury each pitched shutouts in the first period and saved a combined 18 shots, some from point-blank range.
Yahoo Sports summarized the action:
The Capitals continued to pressure Fleury, but costly turnovers in their own zone proved devastating.
Jake Guentzel found Rust with the perfect pass in front of the net after Washington coughed the puck up, and the right winger did the rest for the opening goal. Hornqvist scored the second goal in the third period when the Capitals again lost control.
ESPN Stats & Info noted coming through in clutch moments is nothing new for Rust:
Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post responded to the miscues:
The Capitals continued to generate a flurry of open looks in the closing stretch, but the pattern of Fleury and the Pittsburgh defenders standing strong continued until the final horn rang.
Pittsburgh survived a seven-game slugfest against the Presidents' Trophy winners and has just an Eastern Conference Final matchup against the Ottawa Senators standing in the way of another Stanley Cup Final appearance.