ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals will continue to be judged for what they've failed to do as a team, no matter how many individual accolades they may receive.
Four players remain from the core assembled in Washington over the past decade-plus: captain Alex Ovechkin, forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich and defenseman Mike Green. These were the players who shouldered the expectation of a Stanley Cup championship in the nation's capital, but four times playing together the Capitals have blown a two-game lead and lost a Stanley Cup Playoff series.
This year, the New York Rangers dealt the blow in the Eastern Conference Second Round, preventing Washington from advancing to its first conference final since 1998.
"That's one of the hardest things is, how do you get that monster out of you?" Laich said. "It's still very difficult to let the season go when you haven't had the success that you want."
Ovechkin was not at the Capitals' practice facility Friday when players met with the media one last time this season; he was already in the Czech Republic, where he'll join Russia for its semifinal game at the 2015 IIHF World Championship against the United States on Saturday.
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 9
SOG: 61 | +/-: -3
Coach Barry Trotz wants his players to be cognizant of the past without allowing those mistakes to creep into the present day. But instead of learning from past playoff exits, the Capitals know they have more to figure out.
Some Capitals players think all they need to find is the ability to close teams out.
"We need to work on killer instinct just a little bit more and be able to bury teams," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "Not just win by one goal when we're up; crush them. When we are up in a series, put the foot down. Those are things that would propel us to the next level in this league."
Forward Troy Brouwer broke the concept down to its core: confidence. All the Capitals need is a little success to get it back, Brouwer said, and they'll be on the right track.
"When you have a couple years when you're not able to succeed, it's tough to have that arrogance almost that you're going to be able to close teams out and beat teams," Brouwer said. "There's no questioning the guys in here wanting to win and their desire to win. We have to have that cockiness, that almost arrogance and that confidence that we're a phenomenal hockey team and we deserve to move on and we should move on."
The Capitals had been saying this season felt different to them. They were always in it together in the past, but somehow they felt it even more so this time around.
"It makes you that much more hungry to accomplish your goal, as a team," said Green, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. "We've been through it now, I think, seven out of the 10 times we've been in the playoffs and we're still working towards that goal. The frustrating part is now we've got another 82 games before we get that opportunity."
"It's never fun and it never gets easier, and it gets more and more disappointing every year," Brouwer said. "We put ourselves in a great spot to be able to move on and go to the third round. We've got to find a way to learn from our mistakes. We've got to find a way to find that killer instinct."