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Five reasons Capitals were eliminated from playoffs

by Corey Masisak

WASHINGTON -- It's an all-too familiar feeling in this city.

The Washington Capitals, for the fifth time in six seasons, are left with the pain and the questions of what might have been after a Game 7 loss. For the fourth time in that span, Alex Ovechkin and Co. lost a Game 7 on home ice.

It is a difficult season to make sense of for the Capitals. They were terrible at the start, not having a full training camp to learn new coach Adam Oates' systems and philosophies. They started 2-8-1 and fell to 30th in the NHL standings.

The middle was so-so, steps forward followed by steps back, and the Capitals were 10-14-1 in mid-March before roaring to the finish line and capturing the Southeast Division flag for the fifth time in six seasons.

Now they are left with another first-round disappointment (their third in six years). Here are five reasons why the Capitals will not be part of the Eastern Conference Semifinals:

1. Top six were toothless

No forward on the team scored more than one goal, and it's pretty tough to win a seven-game series under those circumstances. Nicklas Backstrom was the only top-six forward on the team with more than two points.

Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson, Troy Brouwer and Mike Ribeiro each had a goal and an assist, and the sixth spot, held first by Martin Erat then Eric Fehr, delivered no points. Washington's top two lines struggled to produce in this series, and any other advantage the Capitals might have had was doomed to be undone because of it.

2. Defensive depth woes

This was a problem for the entire season. Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson proved to be a formidable trio, and though John Erskine set a career high in average ice time per game, this postseason series proved he's probably more suited as a third-pairing player. A couple of other younger players (Dmitry Orlov and Tomas Kundratek) have shown potential in short spurts, but neither was in the lineup for this series.

Green, who has been criticized in the past for his postseason play, led the team in goals and tied for the team lead in points. Alzner was his typical solid self against tough competition. Carlson was on the ice for some goals-against but wasn't a liability by any means. The problems for the Capitals came after those three; finding another top-four blueliner could become a priority moving forward.

3. Power (play) outage

The Capitals won the first two games and scored a power-play goal in each -- including the lone tally in Game 2 (a Green extra-man goal in overtime). Washington also scored once with the man-advantage in Game 5. They did not score on the power play in the other four games. The common thread? Those were the four losses.

Washington also had trouble generating power-play opportunities. The Capitals had two power plays in the final two games of the series, and after Game 2 they had nine in five games, while the Rangers had 21.

4. Costly hit

The Capitals did not have the services of Brooks Laich for the entire series, and not having him then (and for most of the regular season) hurt. General manager George McPhee added Erat at the NHL Trade Deadline and he was expected to help fill that void.

Though the Rangers did not score on a 5-on-3 in Game 4 after Ovechkin and Erat were whistled for penalties trying to defend a Derek Stepan rush, Ovechkin's hit left Erat injured. Erat was a solid playoff performer with the Nashville Predators and wasn't playing poorly for the Capitals despite not having any points in the first three games. He missed the rest of the series.

5. Couldn't dethrone the King

There is no question who the MVP of this series was: New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist. He shut out the Capitals in Games 6 and 7 and held them scoreless into overtime in Game 2. Lundqvist finished the series with a 1.65 goals against average and .947 save percentage.

The Capitals had problems on offense. They had problems with discipline. The power play, tops in the NHL in the regular season, slumped. But in the end, Lundqvist beat them. Much like when they faced Jaroslav Halak in the first round in 2010, the Capitals carried the play for much of the series but were unable to solve the opposing goaltender enough.

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