Better Than Broken - Better wasn't quite good enough for the Capitals on Thursday night in Raleigh, maybe because the bar was set so low after a dismal performance in a 5-0 loss to the Hurricanes in Game 3 here on Monday. The Caps knew they'd need to match the Canes' intensity and drive in Game 4, and for the most part, they did. But a soft start and two ill-timed mistakes in the middle of the ice cost them a 2-1 decision to Carolina in Game 4.
The Caps came to Raleigh with a 2-0 lead in the series, and they'll head home all even at 2-2 after the Canes took both games in their barn. The loss is extra costly for Washington, too, as it lost heart and soul right winger T.J. Oshie - the team's second-leading goal scorer during the regular season - to a serious upper body injury late in the third period.
Video: WSH@CAR, Gm4: Oshie exits Game 4 with injury
Carolina's Warren Foegele shoved Oshie from behind, sending him into the boards in an awkward fashion. Foegele received a two-minute minor for boarding, a penance the Caps deemed to be light. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin and coach Todd Reirden both believed the hit should have resulted in a five-minute major.
"I don't want to comment on this," Ovechkin began, "but we try to avoid that. We have all those [off-season] meetings - [general managers] make meetings [with] referees, watch videos - and it's two minutes. We're players, we have to go out there and play, but those guys have to make a decision. They can't be afraid. If the guy is hurt, it's a dirty play and it has to be not two minutes, it has to be a different call."
You will occasionally see a major whistled on a play like that, but that's typically reserved for players whose reputations precede them, and Foegele is a rookie with no rap sheet. It wasn't a good hit by any means, but with five minutes left in the third period of a one-goal playoff game, no major was forthcoming.
"I just know that a defenseless player that is a distance from the boards - that can't protect himself - is in a vulnerable spot," says Reirden. "And as a result, we won't be having one of our key players for quite some time."
Video: Postgame Locker Room | April 18
Answer To Yourself - Washington took a big step in executing much better in its own end in Game 4, and not falling victim to the swarming Carolina forecheck as frequently. But the Caps still lack a consistent forecheck of their own and haven't been able to generate anything in the way of five-on-five offense for the last six periods.
"Today was a different game," says Ovechkin. "Better than the first one [in Raleigh]. But I think we just need some urgency in our game. We have good chances to score, but it's not enough. Obviously, it's a situation where we're going to play at home [in Game 5]. Of course you want to win one of the two [in Raleigh], one of those games, but it's playoffs."
Once it got out of its own end, Washington was able to get into Carolina ice on the rush, but it wasn't able to generate any offense there at five-on-five. Aside from a delayed penalty, the Caps didn't have much extended offensive zone time, and most of their trips into Carolina territory consisted of one shot from the perimeter - either on net or off - and then the Canes collecting the puck and coming back up ice.
Video: WSH Recap: Ovechkin scores PPG in Game 4 loss
"Our team played better tonight," says Reirden, "and we know we are in a difficult series here. They have a good team; they've proven it from the New Year on. They are a difficult opponent and they played hard.
"We've got to get more traffic around their goaltender; we've got to make things more difficult for him. We were able to generate some more chances tonight, which was encouraging, because we really didn't do that in Game 3. So there were some positives in that, but they got a couple of chances as well and they converted on them. That's the game.
"But there are still areas for us to improve on and get better, and we were at least able to generate some more opportunities than we had in the prior game."
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | April 18
Power Struggle - Although the Caps scored their only goal of Game 4 on the power play, it's clear by watching them at work that Washington's extra-man outfit is also not operating close to peak level. The Caps scored on their first two power play chances of the series, both in the first period of Game 1, and they're now 1-for-13 since.
Ovechkin scored with eight seconds left in the second of Washington's three power plays in Thursday's Game 4, taking advantage of a Carolina defender who lost his stick (Trevor van Riemsdyk). Prior to the goal, the Caps power play mostly consisted of failed zone entries and turnovers, and Ovechkin's shot was the first the unit managed to get on net in nearly four minutes with the extra man at that point.
Video: WSH@CAR, Gm4: Ovechkin blasts one-timer past Mrazek
In six of those last 13 power play opportunities, the Caps have not been able to get a shot on net. Since scoring twice in the first period of Game 1, the Caps have spent a total of 26:41 with the extra man. They've put 18 shots on net, had a dozen tries blocked, and have missed the net 18 times.
Seven of their 18 shots came during a five-minute major assessed to Carolina's Micheal Ferland in Game 2, and four came in the most meaningless power play the Caps have had in the series, a token and abbreviated opportunity in the final 38 seconds of a game in which they trailed 5-0, Game 3. That leaves just seven shots on net for the other 22 minutes during which they've had an extra skater.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 25:31 in ice time, with five shots on net, with seven shot attempts, and with five blocked shots … Oshie led the Caps with five hits … Nic Dowd won four of six face-offs (67 percent), and the Caps won 23 of only 44 draws (52 percent) in the game.