The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Capitals power play comes up empty at a pivotal moment in OT in Game 7

Fatigue took a toll on Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals on Wednesday night, especially during the two overtime periods. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

The Capitals’ power play headed onto the ice a little more than two minutes into the second overtime of Wednesday’s Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes, with Washington desperately searching for a game-winning goal to send the defending Stanley Cup champions to the second round of the postseason.

The power play has a proven leader in Alex Ovechkin, owner of an all-but-unstoppable one-timer from the left faceoff circle. It has center Nicklas Backstrom, whose production in this series made him and Ovechkin a stunning one-two punch. It has John Carlson, who spearheaded a defensive unit that lost Michal Kempny before the playoffs with a torn hamstring.

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It is a group with experience — and plenty of it in the postseason — against a young Carolina team that hadn’t been in the playoffs for a decade. But with the inconsistent power play continuing to flounder, Washington failed to get a shot off and again missed an opportunity to close out Carolina.

The Hurricanes not too long after grabbed a 4-3 win at Capital One Arena, ending Washington’s season and its bid to repeat as champion. Carolina’s Brock McGinn scored the winner 11:05 into the second overtime.

“Every opportunity missed is devastating really,” Carlson said. “I think you only get to do this for so long, and I’ve been fortunate to be on great teams, and, you know, when you don’t do well, it is more than just we were up in the series or the game — it is everything. It hurts.”

The Capitals looked gassed not only during double overtime but in the first overtime as well, allowing the Hurricanes to put the first nine shots on goal. Washington lost a game it led 2-0 in the first period and 3-1 in the second, only to see that edge disappear early in the third when Carolina’s Jordan Staal tied it at 3.

The Capitals’ Stanley Cup party finally ended. It was fun.

“I think we didn’t execute good enough to give ourselves enough good looks really,” Carlson said. “I think we were close on a couple plays, but that doesn’t do much for you.”

The Capitals scored two first-period goals — one by forward Andre Burakovsky, his first of the postseason after scoring two Game 7 goals last year in the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and one from forward Tom Wilson. But heading into the second, Washington experienced the start of Carolina’s comeback.

A shorthanded goal by Carolina center Sebastian Aho with 10:09 left in the second period provided the boost Carolina needed to get back into the game. Even after the Capitals regained momentum in the second period with a goal from center Evgeny Kuznetsov, his first of the playoffs after he had been largely invisible in the series, the Hurricanes got back into the game with a goal from Teuvo Teravainen 16:37 into the second period to cut the Capitals’ lead to one.

“We were up 3-1,” Backstrom said. “Looking back at that, we need to find a way to shut them down there or keep them out of the scoresheet.”

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Aho’s shorthanded goal was the first special-teams win for Carolina. The Hurricanes’ penalty kill against a wavering Capitals power play in the second overtime — after Saku Maenalanen was penalized for delay of game after shooting the puck over the glass — ended up being a difference-maker.

“We couldn’t come up with a big enough play throughout the game, really,” Carlson said.