If there’s a silver lining to the Capitals’ being eliminated from the playoffs, besides the fact that it could be the impetus for a change in leadership many have called for, it’s that fans won’t be subjected to the postseason heartbreak that has defined the past six years.
Compiling this post was painful, but therapeutic. There’s some comfort in knowing I won’t have to make the solemn walk out of Verizon Center, or swear off yet another bar out of superstition, following an inevitable Game 7 loss.
You may notice that several of the Capitals’ playoff elimination losses over the past six years have coincided with bad news from other local teams: Bryce Harper running into a wall, snakebitten Wilson Ramos being Wilson Ramos, Jordan Williams entering the NBA draft, the Redskins pursuing Chad Johnson. Perhaps this Caps-less spring will be different.
“Quite honestly, tough to explain. It’s funny how over the years the seventh game turns into some form of blowout,” said Adam Oates, the Capitals’ first-year coach. “I wish I had an answer for that. Obviously we pushed very hard in the first period, he made a lot of great saves. They got a lucky one and every bounce seemed to go their way after that.”
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.
The rapid exit only leads to more questions about what is missing from the Capitals’ makeup to succeed in the playoffs. After a year of waiting for redemption following the shocking loss to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in 2010 after leading three games to one, it’s still unclear whether the Capitals have become any more adept at handling staunch playoff pressure.
General Manager George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau should not be absolved of all culpability for the Capitals getting unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs with Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the Lightning. But what transpired in Games 3 and 4 at St. Pete Times Forum wasn’t about a flawed roster or Xs and Os. It was indicative of a larger problem, one that emanates from inside the dressing room and could prove difficult to solve.
Fittingly, the loss came to an end with the Capitals on a power play in which they enjoyed a 6-on-4 advantage with goaltender Semyon Varlamov (14 saves) on the bench. But instead of Washington tying the game, Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak (41 stops) clamped down and shut out the Capitals’ power play for the third consecutive game. The top-ranked unit entering the playoffs, the Ovechkin-led power play finished an astonishing 1 for 33.
Last night’s lopsided loss was a stunner — except maybe to longtime Capitals fans who’ve watched the Penguins toast a playoff victory at their expense more times than they care to remember. To be exact: Pittsburgh has eliminated the Capitals seven times in eight meetings, coming from behind in six of those series.
Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals had rallied from a series deficit of three games to one and dominated the third period of Game 7 at sold-out Verizon Center, but were unable to squeeze one of their 16 shots in the final 20 minutes past Flyers goalie Martin Biron. It came back to haunt them in overtime.