WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin was the final Washington Capitals player through the handshake line with the New York Rangers, exchanging kind words and a few friendly hugs with familiar faces he had battled with for four games.

Of course, the Capitals captain had been through these handshakes after a Stanley Cup Playoff series many times, qualifying 15 times in his 19 NHL seasons and winning the Cup once in 2018. But the 38-year-old left wing never endured a series like this, one where he failed to manage a single point.

So, as the Capitals raised their sticks and saluted their fans following a 4-2 loss in Game 4 of the best-of-7 series that competed their sweep on Sunday, it was understandable to wonder how many more opportunities -- if any -- Ovechkin and what’s left of the Capitals’ Stanley Cup core will get to play in the postseason again.

“I hope I’m still going to get a couple chances,” Ovechkin said, managing a smile in an otherwise somber postgame locker room.

There was no sugar coating how Ovechkin played in the series, and he didn’t try. He ended the series the same way he began it in a 4-1 loss in Game 1 a week before – without registering a shot on goal. Before this series, Ovechkin had been held without a shot on goal only three times in 147 postseason games.

He finished the series with only five shots on goal, four of them in a 3-1 loss in Game 3 on Friday.

“We just didn’t score,” said Ovechkin, who is second among active players with 72 career playoff goals. “Our line didn’t score lots of goals and me, I didn’t play well, so it kind of [stinks] that we played bad.”

Ovechkin said he’d need some time to figure out what went wrong. Coach Spencer Carbery theorized that Ovechkin may have run out of gas after helping carry the Capitals’ sputtering offense during their drive to qualify for the playoffs as the second wild card in the East.

He scored 23 of his 31 goals in Washington’s final 36 regular-season games, but reverted against the Rangers to looking like the player who managed just eight in his first 43 games.

“If he doesn't go on that scoring run …  we're not even sitting up here, right?” Carbery said. “He was scoring consistently every single night. So, what I'm getting at is that was a lot: the second half of the year and especially the last, call it two weeks, where every game felt like life or death for our team. And again, he could answer that more accurately, but I feel like that took a lot out of him physically and mentally.”

The same could be said of most of the Capitals roster after they pushed hard to get in the playoffs, winning three games in four days to finish the regular season. After missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014, few outside their locker room expected to them to be back.

In that way, this playoff appearance felt from the beginning like an unexpected gift. It didn’t after it was over, though.

“It stings no matter what,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Especially with how hard we battled down the stretch, to finish the year like this, it’s really frustrating.”

The difference again Sunday was special teams. The Capitals didn’t get a shot on goal on either of their two power plays. And after scoring the winning goal short-handed in Games 2 and 3, the Rangers went 3-for-4 on the power play, including Artemi Panarin’s goal that gave them a 3-2 lead 3:21 into the third period and Jack Roslovic’s clinching one into an empty net with 51 seconds left.

The silver lining was the valuable experience younger players such as forwards Hendrix Lapierre, 22, Connor McMichael, 23, Aliaksei Protas, 23, and Ivan Miroshnichenko, 20, and defensemen Martin Fehervary, 24, and Alexander Alexeyev, 24, gained from the late regular season playoff push and the four games against the Rangers. That youth demonstrated some of what the future could be like Sunday. Protas set up Fehervary for a goal from the left circle that tied it 1-1 at 14:54 of the first period and Lapierre scored a spectacular 1-on-4 goal on the rush to tie it at 2-2 at 7:48 of the second.

Still, the reality might be that those young players might have to wait a while before they get another chance in the playoffs while the Capitals’ changing of the guard continues. Ovechkin, Carlson, T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson are all that remain from the Cup-winning team, and Oshie’s future appears in doubt after he has played through a recurring back issue the past two seasons and, according to teammate Dylan Strome, a broken hand on Sunday.

Second in NHL history with 853 regular-season goals, Ovechkin will continue his chase of Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 next season. What else the future holds for him and the Capitals other than that will depend on how the young players continue to grow and whether they can add some more skill to an offensively challenged team that scored seven total goals in the series and was 28th in the NHL during the regular season with 2.63 goals per game.

“It kind of was a frustrating game, but it’s the playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “We all understand the urgency has to be a little bit higher. But we were close battling the last two and a half months for that spot. I’m proud of this group of guys. We’ve been through lots of injuries, trade deadline, but we stick together, and it showed the character of this group and that experience that the boys have this year it’s going to help.”

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