Full marks to the Hurricanes, who were able to get to their game for more of the series than the defending champion Caps were. Washington had a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead in the series, and it owned 2-0 and 3-1 leads in Game 7. All of those leads were erased - along with the Caps' hopes of delivering back-to-back Stanley Cup championships to the District - when McGinn scored at 11:05 of double overtime to vault the Canes into the second round of the playoffs, where they will face the New York Islanders.
"I don't know what else to say about this group, and I've been saying it all year," says Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour. "They just don't quit."
Video: WSH Recap: Season ends with double OT loss in Game 7
The Caps were outplayed for significant stretches of all but Game 5, and even though Washington was able to get strong starts in each of the four games in its own building, the pesky Canes dug deep and kept battling back. In the end, Carolina's execution was better and Washington's wasn't good enough. Too often throughout the series - and through most of the 31-plus minutes of overtime in Wednesday's decisive game - the Caps were overwhelmed by the Hurricanes' swarming forecheck. The Caps spent too much time defending, and had little left in the tank for forays into the offensive zone.
"I really liked our start," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We get the 2-0 lead and we get some chances to make it 3-0 or 4-0, and we don't execute those. Then we're on the power play, and we give up a shorthanded goal. That started to send things in the opposite direction.
"They kept pushing. Credit to them. They were able to execute better than us, and that pretty much told the tale of how things went tonight."
Three of the four Carolina goals in Game 7 came as a result of Washington shortening the ice for the Canes. On McGinn's game-winner, the Caps had full possession of the puck behind their net, but Jaccob Slavin kept a clearing bid in at the left point and lobbed it into the right wing corner for Justin Williams. Williams put it to the net front, where McGinn was able to get a stick on it and redirect it past Caps goalie Braden Holtby, ending the Caps' ten and a half month reign as Stanley Cup champs.
"At that point of the game, we just wanted to get pucks toward the net," says McGinn. "Willie kind of threw it there and I was just stick on the ice, going there, and fortunately it was able to go off my stick and into the net."
Video: Postgame Locker Room | April 25
Seven years after they dethroned the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Joel Ward's Game 7 overtime goal in Beantown, the Caps felt what it was like to be on the other side of that equation.
"Obviously it's disappointing," says Holtby. "It's not where we expected to be. It's a hard fought series, and they just ended up making more plays than we did."
Early in the evening, it didn't look like this one was headed to double overtime. It was all Washington in the first.
On the third shift of the contest, the Caps jumped out in front on a buzzing shift from the Lars Eller line in the Carolina zone. Andre Burakovsky jarred the puck loose with a wall hit on Lucas Wallmark, then collected the puck and went directly to the front of the net. From the slot, he beat Petr Mrazek on then glove side to stake the Caps to a 1-0 lead at 2:13 of the first.
Washington came 200 feet in seconds to double its lead just over four minutes later. From deep in Caps territory, Dmitry Orlov hit Alex Ovechkin at the Carolina line. Ovechkin made a dazzling spin move to lose Dougie Hamilton, then got Slavin to commit and slide out of the play before feeding Tom Wilson for a pretty back door goal at 6:23.
The Caps had the Canes on their heels, and they generated a number of other strong chances, but their inability to finish and/or their propensity to overpass would come back to haunt them. Each team had a power play in the first, but neither team was able to do anything with it.
Washington's second power play produced the game's next goal midway through the second, but it was a shorthanded strike for Carolina, a goal that gave the Hurricanes some life.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | April 24
Brett Pesce collected a loose puck near the Canes net and sailed a pass to Sebastian Aho in neutral ice. The Caps had bodies back and weren't outnumbered at all, and as he reached the left circle, Aho put a shot on net. John Carlson went down to block it but missed, and Holtby made the save on what was really a non-threatening shot. But Holtby didn't corral the rebound, which bounced right back to Aho. With Carlson down and out, Aho deposited the loose change, making it 2-1 at 9:51.
Minutes later, the Caps got that one back on a 3-on-1 rush. Carl Hagelin carried into Carolina ice and fed Evgeny Kuznetsov in the center lane. Kuznetsov beat Mrazek to the glove side at 13:22 to restore the Caps' two-goal cushion at 3-1.
That was the high water mark for the Caps on the night; Carolina scored the next three to take the game and the series away from Washington. The Caps couldn't nurse that two-goal lead to the second intermission; Teuvo Teravainen made it a 3-2 game with a sneaky wrister from the slot at 16:37.
Early in the third, the Caps didn't get the puck deep and were a shade slow on a line change, and Slavin exploited the situation with a quick up to Jordan Staal at the Washington line, opposite the benches. As four Caps raced to have an effect on the play - and with Holtby seemingly off his angle - Staal fired a shot to the far side of the net from the right dot at 2:56, tying the game at 3-3.
Washington had some chances in the third, but couldn't get one past Mrazek, and McGinn saved the day for Carolina with a diving sweep of a puck that was sliding inexorably toward the goal line in the blue paint, an action that forced overtime.
The Caps had little in the tank in the overtimes, getting outshot 18-6 and doing nothing with a power play early in the second overtime, when the ice was still reasonably decent. Washington's best chance to win it went by the wayside when Jakub Vrana's short side rush try rang the inside of the left post early in the second overtime.
Washington was clearly gassed as the middle of the second overtime approached, and it was all it could do to get to the middle period scrape of the ice, buying a short breather for both sides. But a dozen seconds later, it was all over. One of the best years of the Caps' lives came to a stunning stop, as the champs went down, falling to the upstart Hurricanes.
"That's a tough one to swallow," says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik. "I don't know if 'unacceptable' is the right word, but you've got to be able to maintain those leads, especially on home ice at this time of the year. We made mistakes, but they played great all series. So it wasn't just us. Eventually, you've got to give them some credit at some point."