In what has become commonplace in Washington, the Capitals were eliminated in a heartbreaking Game 7 on Monday, this time in the form of a 5-0 loss to the Rangers. It never gets easier to explain the Capitals’ demise each year, but the question still has to be asked: What went wrong?
1. Stars Disappeared
Alex Ovechkin is a Hart Trophy finalist for carrying the Capitals into the postseason, scoring 23 goals in his last 23 games to lead the team to a Southeast Division title. But Ovechkin was held in check through seven games, scoring one power-play goal on 30 shots as the Rangers kept him off the score sheet in the final five games, the longest drought of his postseason career. Rangers fourth-liner Arron Asham, who scored twice during the regular season, had more goals than Ovechkin during the series. It wasn’t just Ovechkin who failed to deliver. His linemates, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, combined for two goals and three assists; Troy Brouwer scored one goal; and Mike Ribeiro assisted on one overtime winner and scored another, but he was inconsistent otherwise.
2. A Hot Goaltender
Just like Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak in 2010, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stymied the Capitals at seemingly every turn. He stopped all 62 shots he faced in back-to-back shutouts to close out the series. As Mike Green said after Monday’s loss, the Caps “threw the kitchen sink at [Lundqvist] at times,” but could muster only 12 goals in seven games. Washington averaged 3.04 goals a game during the regular season. What worked for Washington was simply throwing pucks on net, hoping for the odd carom that would catch the steady Lundqvist off-guard. The Capitals, however, got away from that in the final three games, looking for the perfect play to beat the Vezina Trophy finalist to ultimately no avail. The Capitals scored one even-strength goal in their last three games.
3. Loss of Discipline
The Capitals returned to their undisciplined ways from the beginning of the season during the playoffs, committing 33 minors in seven games and giving the Rangers a first-round-high 28 power plays to work with. After preaching the virtues of discipline following their Game 3 loss in which they committed six infractions, the Capitals failed to heed their own advice and committed five penalties to the Rangers’ zero before the final horn in Game 6. Washington allowed only two power-play goals in the series, but spending so much time down one or two players killed the Caps’ momentum and tampered with coach Adam Oates’ game plan. The penalty-killing units expended unnecessary energy, while those not killing the penalty grew cold on the bench.