Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Bryan Rust (17) celebrates his goal during the second period of Game 7 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinal with Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), from Russian Federation, at right, Wednesday, May 10, 2017, in Washington.
If the Senators are going to get to the Stanley Cup finals, it will be through the front door of the defending champs.
After erasing a 3-1 series deficit by winning twice in a row with at-times dominating performances, the Capitals came home with a chance to make a breakthrough.
Rust was again a hero in a crucial game for Pittsburgh, scoring his eighth goal in 12 career games facing elimination or with the chance to eliminate an opponent.
Fleury did this once before, stopping Ovechkin on a breakaway in 2009's Game 7 as the Pens went on to capture the Stanley Cup, setting the tone for the Capitals' misfortune.
When Game Four came to an end, with the Penguins having taken the win to go up 3-1 in the series, it looked to be the latest chapter in a long history of disappointing early exits for the Washington Capitals. Then, after Braden Holtby stopped Evgeni Malkin on a 2-on-1, the Capitals actually did have a man advantage, because the Russian center was sent off for tripping. He already suffered a concussion in Game 3 of the series, and took another vicious blow to the head in Game 6, as he crashed head-first into the boards.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) talks with Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) after Game 7 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinal, Wednesday, May 10, 2017, in Washington.
"We're not in this position moving on if he doesn't play the way he did", said captain Sidney Crosby, who assisted on Bryan Rust's opening goal. He got the shaft of his stick on Ovechkin's wrist shot from the high slot.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Marc-Andre Fleury thanked his stick and flashed a smile so wide it could be seen through his mask.
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Pittsburgh improved to 6-0 in road Game 7s while Washington fell to 3-8 when hosting.
"Tonight, I don't think we gave ourselves a chance", said Holtby, who allowed goals by Bryan Rust in the second period and Patric Hornqvist in the third.
The Capitals tried everything, including Brooks Orpik fighting Scott Wilson midway through the third, but couldn't mount a comeback to turn the tide.
The Pittsburgh Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference final on Wednesday night with a 2-0 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 7. T.J. Oshie, Karl Alzner, Shattenkirk and Daniel Winnik are unrestricted free agents and with several restricted free agents due raises it'll be nearly impossible to keep this team together.
Fleury was playing only because No. 1 Matt Murray was injured prior to start of the playoffs.
Trotz shifted Ovechkin to the bottom-six forward corps when the Capitals were in a three-games-to-one hole entering Game 5, and it sparked a turnaround in the series. During that time, Pittsburgh is 4-0 in Game 7s. Daley missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury.
On Wednesday, Murray suited up from the first time since then to serve as Fleurys backup. F Carter Rowney replaced Tom Kuhnhackl (healthy scratch) on Pittsburgh's fourth line. The Capitals have a better power play percentage, a better penalty kill percentage, and are averaging many, many more shots on goal per game.
Washington's dominance in possession had people thinking that Game 7 would swing Washington's way including a former National Hockey League goaltender.
Replicating the performances in Game 5 and 6 will be a hard task with the Penguins quite literally fighting to save their 2016-17 season, but if the Capitals do manage to do just that, they'll have the odds in their favor.