The Washington Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round after a 2-1 loss in overtime Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
The Capitals have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Rangers three times in the past four years, twice from the second round. Washington has not been to the Eastern Conference Final since 1998.
"I don't know what to say," captain Alex Ovechkin said following the loss. "They're a great team, but we deserve a better result."
Here are five reasons the Capitals were eliminated:
1. Star players didn't live up to potential -- Ovechkin told reporters after Game 6, "We're going to come back and win the series," and he did what he could to make that happen in Game 7, scoring the Capitals' only goal of the game. Ovechkin was scoreless the previous four games and had three points in the series. Nicklas Backstrom had two points in seven games and no goals in his final 10 games. Defenseman Mike Green had no points in his final 11 playoff games.
Washington's top players were absent from the score sheet during the series, and it showed. While the Capitals' top-six was slumping, rookies and bottom-six players shouldered the load offensively but it ultimately wasn't enough.
2. Reliance on Braden Holtby -- In a series where each game was decided by one goal, all credit goes to the stellar goaltending on each side. But the Capitals relied on Holtby to keep them in the game or bail them out too often and didn't support him by producing enough offense.
"Obviously we had an opportunity to close it out, but all the games were close," said Holtby, who had a 1.71 GAA and a .944 save percentage in 13 games this postseason. "It could have been 3-1 the other way [after Game 4] and us coming back. We fought hard and it was a great series, one that could have easily gone our way, but it just didn't."
3. Not playing a full 60 minutes -- Throughout much of the playoffs, the Capitals often lamented their inability to maintain their level of play for the full 60 minutes, especially in the opening minutes. Slow starts plagued Washington for much of the regular season and the problem followed it into the playoffs. That was perhaps never more apparent than Game 6, when the Capitals went down 2-0 in the first period, outplayed the Rangers in the second half of the game but lost 4-3.
"They're a first-period team," Holtby said during the series. "They have been all year and that's what we need to keep realizing. We need to do better and not fall in the trap of just accepting that they're gonna come out hard. It’s where we’re gonna stick to our game plan and we’re the team that’s dictating the pace and if not, then that’s where I'm there to do my job.”
4. Stalled power play -- Washington's power play led the NHL in the regular season but ran dry in the playoffs. In seven games against the Rangers, the Capitals went 1-for-15 and were empty following Ovechkin's power-play goal in Game 1 of the series. Trotz said during the series the longer a team goes without a power play, the harder it is to score when they get one.
"One thing with the power play too, is we need reps," Trotz said. "We can do the reps out here all the time, and those will give us touches, but you need actual game reps. You'll see a lot of times power plays may not score on the first one or two, then all of a sudden they'll score two in a row. You need those reps. In this series, we haven't had those reps."
5. Missing resiliency -- After leading the series 3-1, the Capitals lost three consecutive games and as a result, the series. In the first round, Washington won each game following a loss against the New York Islanders but couldn't replicate that success against the Rangers. The Capitals hadn't lost two consecutive games since mid-March and had not lost three games in a row since late February.
"It's a lot to digest right now," defenseman Matt Niskanen said after Game 7 according to the Washington Post. "Guys are hurt, for sure."