The Washington Capitals did something on Monday night they have not done in 20 years, clinch a spot in the NHL conference final. They had to beat a team they had not defeated in the postseason in 20 years – the Pittsburgh Penguins – to do it.
What might have been the most amazing part of the achievement, well, apart from actually winning the series, might have been the contributions from rookies. The Caps dressed 21 skaters in the conference semifinal series against the Penguins, six of them rookies. Here is how they did:
Some of the noteworthy takeaways…
- Three of the rookies – one-sixth of a normal roster deployment – played in all six games in the second round (Vrana, Stephenson, Djoos)
- Five of them played in the series-clinching Game 6 (all but Gersich)
- As a group, the six of them went 3-3-6, plus-4
- They had two game-winning goals, both by Jakub Vrana, who leads all rookies in the postseason in game-winners (two)
- Four of them averaged more than ten minutes of ice time per game; Travis Boyd got more than 12 minutes in his only appearance, a significant contribution in Game 6 given that the Caps were missing three top-six forwards (Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, and Tom Wilson)
- Stephenson was the only one to skate penalty-killing minutes, but he logged more than 10 minutes over the six games, another significant contribution
- Vrana had a power play goal on his only power play shot and had 4:30 in man advantage ice time over the six games
- All six were credited with hits (23 combined; Stephenson leading with ten); five of the six were credited with blocked shots (eight combined; Walker did not have one in his only appearance)
- Four of the six had personal shot attempts-for percentages at 5-on-5 over 50 percent over the six games, the only two not to do so perhaps suffering from the number of games played (Boyd: 36.84 in one game; Gersich: 24.00 in two games). As a group they were 50.88 percent
As the postseason proceeds to the third round, it would be a stretch, perhaps, to expect such contributions on a regular basis. But when the Caps needed it, faced with a depleted lineup, they got them. The performance of these six rookies and their contributions in reversing the curse of the Penguins deserves to be remembered for the significance it had.