If Pittsburgh falls, so too does their chance to be the first team in the salary cap era to repeat. And unlike last year when there was only one semi-significant offseason change (Ben Lovejoy signing with NJ as a free agent) next season's Penguins team will surely look much different than this version. This is far from the end of this core (and with players in their 20's like Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz all in key roles, the Pens supporting cast is arguably better than ever) but this game could be the last for long-time key veterans like Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz and whomever they lose in the expansion draft.
Should the Capitals lose, it's even more devastating. They're looking at 10 impending free agents including some big unrestricted guys who are inline for raises (TJ Oshie, Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams) that will likely push most away from DC. The Caps also have Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky to re-sign as restricted free agents, two key players from this Pens series who will get more money and tighten the cap structure too. There may even be calls for a massive shakeup of the core players on the team that would fail yet again to get past Pittsburgh and the second round of the playoffs.
For one team and fanbase there will be pure elation at the end of the night that a magical playoff ride continues. For another team and fanbase the realization is likely to set in quickly that this off-season isn't likely to be a very pleasant one.
Speaking of Fleury, and while it's a little callous to mention this on the day of a Game 7, it's still relevant.
If Dallas is able to sign Ben Bishop, strike them off this list of potential spots for Fleury to end up via trade this summer. Also, if you missed it, the Hurricanes traded for and signed impending FA Scott Darling, knocking them off the list too.
Spots where as of now there are no starting goalies signed for next year? Buffalo*, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Las Vegas. There could always be a wildcard team looking to jump in and alter their plans, but the market of teams without a goalie isn't all that large. (There's also Philly, but that would never, ever happen, right?)
Hopefully we will be thinking more about Ottawa and less about this in the immediate future, but just in case you're keeping track.
*Buffalo does have Robin Lehner as a RFA
Once upon a time around Game 4-5, despite the Caps heavily owning shots and shot attempts, the high-danger scoring chances were close to even. And the Pens players were converting. That's changed drastically as Washington has piled up the good chances (and goals) lately. As Bill West put it for the Trib:
Fleury's struggles in Game 6 against Washington primarily stemmed from what Corsica Hockey classified as "high-danger shots," which happen near or at the net front. The Penguins' veteran netminder turned away just three of seven high-danger shots, a .429 save percentage. He turned away at least .666 percent of those shots in every other playoff game this postseason. He stopped all six low-danger shots and 12 of the 13 medium-danger shots he faced.
If Pittsburgh is to win tonight, Fleury will probably have to be the best player on the ice. However, the rest of the skaters can't be THAT far behind him. If he's good but they're bad at allowing high danger chances and keeping the puck out of the defensive zone for long stretches, that's just not a way to win against a strong team.
At this point, given personnel, it remains to be seen if it's possible. Soon enough, we'll know.
Finally, a Badger Bob quote
I'm always optimistic. That's the only way to live life, don't hang your head. Life's too short everyday's a bonus - Badger Bob Johnson #LGP— Pensburgh (@Pensburgh) May 10, 2017