BOSTON — Joel Ward slammed home a rebound at 2:57 of overtime to give Washington a 2-1 victory over Boston on Wednesday night, sending the Capitals to the second round of the playoffs and ending the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins' hopes of a repeat.
Rookie Braden Holtby stopped 31 shots for Washington in Game 7 – the seventh one-goal game of the series. Matt Hendricks scored the Capitals' other goal.
Tyler Seguin scored, and Tim Thomas made 26 saves for Boston.
It was the first time in NHL history that a playoff series had seven games determined by one goal. Four of the games went to overtime, and two others were decided with less than two minutes left in regulation.
Hendricks scored midway through the first period, and Seguin tied it in the second. It stayed that way through a scoreless third, with Washington killing off a penalty in the final 3 minutes to send the game into overtime.
Patrice Bergeron had a chance to win it in the first minute of the extra period, but he couldn't get off a solid shot from Holtby's right. Two minutes later, the Capitals broke into the Boston zone with former Bruin Mike Knuble leading a 2-on-1.
Knuble shot, and Thomas left the rebound out where Ward could reach it with his backhander.
The building fell silent as the Capitals celebrated just their third postseason series win since a run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998. Some fans littered the ice with debris, but the Bruins waited for the postgame handshake.
Thomas, bringing up the rear, gave Holtby a tap on the shoulder and said, "Great job, kid."
No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.
The Capitals earned more than 100 points in the previous three seasons, leading the NHL with 121 in 2010, but had little to show for it once the postseason started. They won just two series over that span and have not made it out of the Eastern Conference semifinals since 1998, when they made it to the Stanley Cup finals but were swept by Detroit.
This year's regular season wasn't as successful.
But the playoffs have a chance to be even better.
Entering the postseason as a No. 7 seed, the Capitals won three times in Boston – they also won Games 2 and 5 – to earn a berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Their second-round opponent won't be determined until after Game 7s Thursday night between Ottawa and the New York Rangers, and Florida and New Jersey.
The Bruins needed an unprecedented three Game 7s to win the Cup last year, including the 4-0 victory over Vancouver that gave the Original Six franchise its first title since 1972. Thomas also had a shutout in the Game 7 win over Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals.
But that streak ended midway through the first period when Carlson shot from right point and Hendricks tipped it past Thomas' right shoulder to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.
The Bruins tied it with 5:33 left in the second when Holtby kicked Andrew Ference's shot wide to his left to Johnny Boychuk, whose shot trickled through the goalie's pads and into the crease. Seguin dove for it, with two defenders crashing on top of him, and swiped it into the net to make it 1-1.
Notes: Bruins F Rich Peverley took a two-handed shove from Holtby turned around and swung his stick at the goalie before checking his swing and wisely deciding not to follow through. ... The Bruins played a record three Game 7s en route to the Stanley Cup title last year. ... Boychuk skated off late in the game favoring his right shoulder, but returned and drew a penalty on Jason Chimera with 2:26 left in regulation. ... Thomas had shutouts in each of his previous two Game 7 appearances. ... All 18 of Washington's playoff wins in the last four years have been by a rookie goalie.