WASHINGTON -- Game 7s, like the one the Penguins and Washington played last night to determine the winner of their second-round playoff series, are always special. They just aren't particularly rare these days.
Three of the four series in Round 2 will go the distance. The Penguins-Capitals game got things rolling last night, and Boston will face Carolina while Detroit takes on Anaheim tonight in a couple of other seventh games.
Chicago, which eliminated Vancouver in six games, is the only team that avoided going seven in the second round.
Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton figures that's to be expected, given the balance that exists in the league.
"There's so much parity that, on any given night, any team has a chance to win," he said. "You're seeing that in the second round."
Forward Max Talbot, though, figures it is something of a fluke.
"You don't expect series to go seven [very often]," he said. "Usually, there's a team that's clearly better than the other.
"It's interesting. I think it's great for the game. Maybe it's just one of those years."
Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and, thanks in part to his work against Philadelphia's Jeff Carter and Alex Ovechkin of Washington during the first two rounds, figures to be in line for a pretty healthy raise, whether it's from the Penguins or another club.
"I wish I could lie and say you never think about [impending free agency], but it is in the back of my head," he said.
While there's nothing overtly spectacular about Scuderi's game, his reliable defensive play would be an asset for any club. And even though his memories of this spring figure to be shaped, in large part, by the outcome of Game 7 against the Capitals, he allowed a few days ago that he had no major problems with his performance to that point.
"There are always some things you have in your mind that you wish you'd played a little better, that you could have done differently," Scuderi said. "But, for the most part, I think the whole team has done a good job, and I'm satisfied with the way I've played."
It has been apparent for a couple of seasons that Chicago is one of the most promising young teams in the NHL.
And while not many people expected them to reach the Western Conference final so quickly, Penguins forward Craig Adams, acquired from the Blackhawks on waivers in late February, said it doesn't surprise him.
"Not at all," he said. "If you look at their record during the regular season, I wasn't surprised they beat the teams [Vancouver and Calgary] they've beaten."
And he apparently won't be shocked if Chicago knocks off the Red Wings or Ducks in Round 3.
"Anyone can do anything," he said. "It's a question of, 'Will they?' Either one, they're going to face a tough opponent.
"Whether they [win or don't], I don't think it will come down to experience or intimidation or anything like that, because I think those guys have shown that it's not going to be a factor. They've already had their backs against the wall a couple of times during the first two series."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has impressed outside observers with his even-keel approach to his job, and his players also have noticed the stability and consistency in his work.
"He's maintained the same personality, the exact same approach to everything, so that's been good," center Sidney Crosby said.
"It's easy to get caught up in the moment and change [things] or let that affect he way you approach things, and he hasn't done that."
Last night marked the second time Penguins defenseman Hal Gill has played a Game 7 in the NHL. And, while he didn't care much for how the first one turned out -- his Boston team lost to arch-rival Montreal -- he allowed that there was something to be said for going through it.
"[Losing] was pretty miserable," Gill said. "But it was a fun experience, nonetheless."
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau has turned out to be something of a trend-setter.
He was promoted from Washington's American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey Nov. 22, 2007, and a steady stream of minor league coaches have followed him to the NHL since.
The list includes John Anderson (Atlanta), Scott Gordon (New York Islanders), Cory Clouston (Ottawa) and, most recently, Bylsma.
"I don't know if it has anything to do with the success of us or with them taking a chance on me," Boudreau said. "I think everything is familiarity.
"You look at the American League guys who have been brought up to coach, I think the [general managers] have known them pretty well. I think that's an important thing, rather than going with an unknown."
Both sides pointed to secondary scoring as a key factor in this series -- the club getting it in a particular game tended to win --and the Penguins had a couple of third-line forwards break out of extended droughts during their previous visit to the Verizon Center.
Matt Cooke scored his first postseason goal since 2004 in the Penguins' 4-3 overtime victory in Game 5 Saturday, while Jordan Staal put in his first in 17 games.
Although neither followed that up by beating Washington goalie Simeon Varlamovin Game 6, Staal said that getting one did great things for his confidence.
"It obviously helps to get the monkey off your back," he said. "Your hands feel a little lighter, your legs feel a little quicker."
And your mind a bit less burdened, which is particularly important for a guy like Staal, who says he can't compartmentalize frustration over things like a scoring slump while focusing on the positive aspects of his performances.
"I'm usually not very good at that," he said. "It's something I have to work on, when things aren't going well to just keep plugging away and doing the right things, good things are going to happen."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . Shelly Anderson contributed to this report.