After a tumultuous year that included a coaching change, a radical shift in strategy and publicly voiced dissent among players, Washington’s strong play in the postseason sparked thoughts of what could rise out of the din. Not even the strides the Capitals made in recent weeks could help push this group farther than various the disappointments of years past, though.
It is the fifth consecutive spring that the Capitals have failed to advance past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, continuing a string of heartbreak during the Ovechkin era.
“It’s terrible feeling now. All I can say, we do our best and it’s probably best team I played,” Ovechkin said. “You know, group of guys and atmosphere, everybody was — it’s unbelievable to play and I hope everybody gonna stay here ’til next year. It’s hard.”
This is the first time in three playoff meetings over the past four years between these teams that New York managed to triumph, and it came with strong performances by some of its top players. Rangers prized free agent acquisition Brad Richards scored an early goal, on New York’s first shot of the game, to give them a lead they carried into the third period. In net, Vezina and Hart trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist was stellar, making 22 saves to outduel rookie Braden Holtby who finished with 29 stops.
Several Capitals described the loss as a game they could have won, including Karl Alzner, but that didn’t prevent the defenseman from critiquing their play in this critical game.
“We didn’t play like we should have won, I don’t think,” said Alzner, whose reputation for honest and blunt evaluation is largely unparalleled on the Capitals’ roster. “We didn’t play our best game, didn’t have enough fight, enough grit. Didn’t battle for pucks enough, had a power play that was awful. It’s really too bad that in a game of this magnitude we stunk the bed, pretty much. It’s just not good enough for us.”
It was another close game, the 13th of 14 playoff contests for Washington that would be determined by only one goal, but it was the first time all postseason that the team entered the third period trailing. The Capitals spent a bulk of the contest fighting to create offense and opportunities to challenge Lundqvist, but they never received the offensive burst they needed to rally for a comeback.
“You know, we had our chances to win it, and so did they,” said Coach Dale Hunter, who didn’t comment when asked if he planned to return to guide the Capitals next season. “It’s like two good teams battling each other. What can you say? It’s just that we came up short tonight. We had our chances that we didn’t bury, and they buried two, and we only got one.”