Despite a ton of hype coming into the Capitals-Penguins series, this may be one series that actually lives up to its billing, providing tight games and high drama for both sides as each team has had - and lost - control over this series.
Just one goal separates the Capitals and Penguins in this series, as there was just one contest in this series that wasn't decided by a single tally - and that was just a two-goal margin in Game 4 for Pittsburgh.
To put that in perspective, that has never happened in Capitals' history before where the first six games had that thin of a margin of victory, as usually there was at least one blowout in that span. Even Game 4 the outcome wasn't in doubt until late in regulation when the Penguins added a late insurance tally.
And after a first round with no overtimes against the Rangers, the Caps have more than made up for it. Washington has played three in extra time for just the third time in its playoff history, both coming in the 1998 run to the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston and Buffalo.
The team's two icons - Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby - have also excelled in this series with the Caps' sniper scoring seven goals and six assists, while the Pens' star has six goals and four helpers of his own.
And the team's "lesser" lights have also had their impacts despite some struggles, as Evgeni Malkin was able to help the Penguins grab Games 3 and 5, while Alexander Semin emerged last night to help send the series back to Washington with a goal and some key plays.
Just when it appeared one team would take control of the series, the other were able to take momentum back - in a big way. The Capitals certainly looked like they would be able to hold off the Penguins after a pair of wins at Verizon Center, but the Penguins wrested control from the Caps with three wins of their own. However, they couldn't close the deal and the Capitals forced Game 7 in a wild back-and-forth night featuring four lead changes before David Steckel finally lit the red light for the last time Monday.
Even the coaches and players, in the middle of a tight battle to move one win closer to the Stanley Cup and either the Boston Bruins or the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals, they know this has been one of the best Stanley Cup playoff series of all-time with one act left to go.
"If I wasn't behind the bench, I would sure enjoy watching," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said at the postgame press conference last night. "It's fun now, it might not have been fun if they had scored. This is so good for our game. When our best players can shine on a bright stage like this. I just wish it was for the Cup."
"There was a lot of talk before the series started, and it's everything it was made up to be." Crosby said afterwards. "Let's just say it's not surprising it's going seven."
While Washington's faithful is involved to see they can earn a measure of revenge against the Penguins, outside the Beltway, this is being seen as a series that might go in history among such memorable series as the 1993 Kings-Maple Leafs tilt, or 1994 Rangers-Devils or even the 2001 Avalanche-Devils final.
It's so rare that two of the game's best performers meet in a playoff series, let along performing at such a high level.
"They're incredible, both of them, and Malkin is just as incredible," Boudreau said. "They play at a level other people can't attain."
Add to that the subplots of the rivalry between the two clubs, not to mention the other players who are contributing to their clubs. For Washington, Simeon Varlamov's stellar work for much of the series, Brooks Laich making up for a miss in overtime of Game 5 for an extra-time winner in Game 6. On the other bench, Ruslan Fedetenko has three goals for the Pens in a year where he had just 16, and Kris Letang has an overtime winner one game after appearing to be seriously hurt during the third period of Game 2.
So, it's appropriate the two teams will play one game for bragging rights for one year, and as Ovechkin pointed out, it probably was meant to be.
"I think it's going to be great game," he said. "I think the league wants us to play Game 7."