“The Rangers must have blocked a hundred shots. It was crazy how well they kept us on the outside,” veteran Eric Fehr said. “They do a good job of it, and they are allowed to do a very good job . . . Holding and pushing, they are allowed to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do in front of the net.
“They want to sit in the box and block shots. We couldn’t get a lead and get them out of their shell. Lundqvist made a few saves here and there. But their defense made the saves for them.”
The Caps’ funeral room is now an annual visit like a wake: a mix of sadness, what-might-have-been and the self-delusion that may be a requirement to play such a painful, disfiguring sport.
“I thought we absolutely outplayed them at times, most of the time. It’s tough to swallow, really is,” defenseman Mike Green said. “This was the best team, as a team, that we’ve had. Depth, coaching, structure, system, we had it. But things happen. This result doesn’t reflect how bad we wanted it.”
Rookie Coach Adam Oates has been a bright spot, rousing his team from a 2-8-1 start to an 11-1-1 finish and a No. 3 seed. He has reached Ovechkin, who led the NHL in goals again. But he suffers from Capsitis, too.
“They got a lucky one, and after that, everything seemed to go their way,” Oates said. “When you start leaking oil, it’s hard.”
In response to various queries, he said, “We did a pretty good job . . . We had our best start in five games . . . We’ll address that next year . . . Ask in a couple of days.”
Unfortunately, that has been the Caps’ response to playoff losses since Biblical times, when they blew a two-game lead to the Pharisees.
For the Caps, the future looks mediocre. There won’t be any more discount-bin Southeast Division Champion banners, like the ones for the past six seasons that hang in the Phone Booth rafters. Their midseason rebound ensures that Oates and McPhee will be back. The improved play of Ovechkin and Green gives them value, but neither will regain past peak performances. The central team personalities will remain in place.
Where does this team get better? Not in goal, where Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth make a combined $4.35 million per season through 2014-15 and continue to be pretty good. Nicklas Backstrom has never been the same scoring threat since his concussion. Mike Ribeiro wanted to get an extension in season, but didn’t. So he may leave. The list of decent players unlikely to get better but certain to be a year older is as long and somber as Oates’s face.
On Wednesday, the Caps will have their clean-out-the-lockers Breakdown Day. As is custom, the bright side will be highlighted, embellished. The Caps will continue to be the Caps, their value marked to a theoretical model in ownership’s mind, not to the harsh market testing of actual results.
If you are one of the thousands who do care deeply about the Caps, but are tired of postseason losses followed by excuses, unlucky bounces, bad refs, conspiracies and happy talk about Next Year, then you know the Caps already have had their annual Break Down Day.
It was Monday.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/boswell.