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What do the Capitals do next after losing in the first round of the 2010 NHL playoffs?

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 30, 2010; D01

Less than 24 hours after his Washington Capitals suffered the worst collapse by a top seed in NHL history, owner Ted Leonsis said the team won't "do anything rash," but conceded that something will have to change next season.

In a post on his personal blog, Leonsis said Washington's "hockey IQ seemed low" in its seven-game series against the Montreal Canadiens, and he was not alone in that assessment on a day when the Capitals' unfathomable defeat-- they became the first top seed to blow a 3-1 series lead to a No. 8 seed -- was the talk of the NHL.

For Versus analyst and former Washington defenseman Brian Engblom, the entire series was defined by a single play with about two minutes remaining in Wednesday's 2-1 Game 7 defeat. Jason Chimera had a point-blank scoring opportunity, but Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges laid out as Chimera fired the shot and used his stick to send the puck fluttering harmlessly over the net.

"That right there might have epitomized the series," Engblom said. "Montreal's will to win was stronger."

All but three Canadiens finished with at least one blocked shot in Game 7, and the team finished with 41 -- or, just one fewer than the total number of shots the Capitals actually got through. In seven games, the Canadiens blocked 117 shots, which is 40 more than the next team and 75 more than the Capitals.

"Everyone on that team should get a medal of honor," NHL Network analyst and former goaltender Kevin Weekes said. "There were so many guys blocking shots that don't normally do that."

The Canadiens' goaltending was also better. After being pulled midway through a lopsided loss in Game 3, Jaroslav Halak stopped 131 of 134 shots (.978 save percentage) and earned the game's first star in the final three games of the series.

Semyon Varlamov, meantime, was the first star in Games 3 and 4 after replacing an ineffective José Theodore in Game 2. But the rookie allowed seven goals on 65 shots in Games 5-7 for an .892 save percentage.

"When you get 54 shots in a game and the opposition wins, chances are you didn't lose the game because you played poorly," NBC analyst and former NHL head coach Pierre McGuire said. " You lose the game because the other goalie was better than yours."

Leonsis didn't assign blame when he wrote, "we didn't adjust well on the ice to the new schemes coming our way." But Engblom and Weekes both said Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau's seeming lack of adjustments to his team's scheme -- as well as a certain star player's resistance to change -- was a problem.

"If you just play at one speed, one tempo all the time, which they do, at 100 miles per hour all the time, it becomes predictable," Weekes said. "They live and die scoring goals off the rush, and they got frustrated."

Engblom said he was stunned by Boudreau's lack of adjustments Wednesday, particularly his forward line combinations.

"What's the saying? 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,'" Engblom said. "You have to be able to play more than one way to win the Stanley Cup. It doesn't matter if it's the first round or the fourth round, someone is going to find an antidote for you if you only know how to play only one way."

Ovechkin finished with five goals and five assists, but he was held to a goal and an assist in the final three games. In Washington's Game 1 loss, he was held without a shot or point for the first time in his career.

"He's going to have to learn to adapt, too," Engblom said of the two-time MVP, who was nominated for the Hart Trophy on Thursday. "From eight feet outside the Montreal blue line to inside the zone, he was constantly trying to beat people on his own. They ate him up. They knew what he was going to do."

Leonsis also called out the Capitals' sputtering power play, writing, "we were horrid on the special teams." After leading the league in power-play effectiveness all regular season, the unit finished 1 for 33 in the series and was blanked in each of the final three games. In fact, Washington scored more short-handed (twice) than with the man advantage.

Some of the Capitals' trouble on the power play was because of Halak. Some of it, though, was their penchant for over-passing and aversion to crashing the net.

"Mike Knuble is willing to go to the net and get sandy," Weekes said. "But their guys are so used to painting Picassos, I don't know if they're willing to get out the crayons and start sketching."

There were glaring individual letdowns, too. Leonsis didn't name any players Thursday, but he didn't have to. The game summaries spoke for themselves.

Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Tomas Fleischmann combined to score 82 regular season goals. None found the net in the playoffs.

"[Semin] needed to come through more," Engblom said. "He's going to have to learn to go into those tough areas in front of the net and stand in front of the net and take a beating and score some of those goals off his leg or off his foot."

Green, in Engblom's estimation, put too much pressure on himself after a weak showing in last year's playoffs and, at times, struggled to find a balance between taking care of his own end and creating offense at the other.

"It was startling to watch, actually," he said. "He's a very talented guy. When he wasn't scoring, he seemed to act negatively to the pressure. "

The 24-year-old Norris Trophy finalist finished with three assists but took six minor penalties -- twice as many as any other Capital, including an offensive-zone cross check that led to a Montreal power-play goal in Game 7.

"He's trying to do the right thing by accelerating the pace of the game," McGuire said. "But then he loses a handle on the puck, and he cross checks [Andrei] Markov. He was overextending himself."

The analysts agreed that there is plenty of blame to go around in Washington. Each also said the Capitals aren't at the point where Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee need to consider an overhaul.

"We will collect our thoughts," Leonsis wrote on his blog Thursday. "We will be energized by our failure. We will seek to improve."

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