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Capitals eliminated from playoffs after depth scoring disappears

Kempny injury, ineffective power play lead to seven-game loss to Hurricanes

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Washington Capitals' season ended with a 4-3 double-overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Capital One Arena on Wednesday. The defeat also ended the Capitals' bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

The Capitals were unable to recapture the magic that helped them win their first championship last season and couldn't finish the persistent Hurricanes despite having leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, and a 3-1 lead with less than five minutes left in the second period of Game 7.

"It's obviously tough, but everything can happen in a seven-game series," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. "We've all seen that. But right now it's just disappointing. We would have liked a better outcome. ... It's tough to swallow."

Here are 5 reasons the Capitals were eliminated:

 

1. Depth disappointment

The Capitals tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the League lead with seven players who scored at least 20 goals during the regular season: forward Alex Ovechkin (51), forward T.J. Oshie (25), forward Jakub Vrana (24), forward Tom Wilson (22), Backstrom (22), forward Brett Connolly (22) and center Evgeny Kuznetsov (21). But that depth did not materialize against the Hurricanes.

Though Ovechkin (four goals, five assists) and Backstrom (five goals, three assists) carried the load on the top line with Wilson (three goals, two assists), Washington didn't get enough offensive production from its other lines. Losing Oshie (one goal, one assist) when he fractured his right clavicle in Game 4 didn't help.

Connolly scored two goals, one each in Games 5 and 6; Vrana had zero points; Kuznetsov had six points (one goal, five assists) but they all came in the Capitals' four home games. He never came close to being the impact player he was when he had a League-high 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

"We weren't able to execute probably throughout our lineup as much as I would have hoped just in terms of our depth of scoring," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said.

 

2. They were outworked

This series was a mismatch on paper as far as offensive skill. And that was before the Hurricanes lost forwards Andrei Svechnikov (concussion) and Micheal Ferland (upper body) to injuries in Game 3.

Sometimes a hot goalie can be the equalizer, but that wasn't the case here. Carolina's Petr Mrazek had a 2.53 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in the series.

So how did the Hurricanes defeat the Capitals? With their work ethic.

No matter who was missing from their lineup, the Hurricanes kept coming with their relentless forecheck and the Capitals were unable to match their intensity in battles in the corners and in front of the net.

"They are not going to roll over and we didn't do enough to fend them off really," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said.

 

3. Kempny's injury

The Capitals knew defenseman Michal Kempny was an important part of their Cup team after acquiring him in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks last season. That's why they signed him to a four-year, $10 million contract June 29, 2018.

But losing Kempny to a torn left hamstring March 20 magnified his importance.

Video: Michal Kempny is out long-term with lower-body injury

The Capitals tried several approaches to replace Kempny in the top pair with Carlson, including moving Carlson, a right-handed shot, to the left side and later playing rookie Jonas Siegenthaler on the left side with Carlson. They got mixed results, but had trouble breaking out of the defensive zone against the Hurricanes forecheck for most of the series.

 

4. Lack of killer instinct

After going 4-0 in games when they had a chance to close a series during their Cup run last season, Washington was 0-2 in those situations against Carolina.

The Capitals had the Hurricanes on their heels after winning the first two games at home but allowed them to get back in the series by losing by a combined 7-1 in Games 3 and 4 at Carolina. After the Capitals appeared to rediscover their winning formula in a 6-0 win in Game 5, they couldn't maintain that level in Games 6 and 7.

They had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in Game 6 and lost 5-2, and leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in Game 7.

 

5. Power-play letdown

The power play went 6-for-24 (25.0 percent) in the series, which looks good on the surface but is misleading. The Capitals went 2-for-4 in a 4-2 win in Game 1, 3-for-4 in Game 5, and 1-for-16 in the other five games. That includes a combined 0-for-5 in the losses in Games 6 and 7.

In Game 7, Washington had two power plays when leading 2-0 that it could not convert on. In fact, Sebastian Aho scored a shorthanded goal during the second one to cut Carolina's deficit to 2-1 at 9:51 of the second period.

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm7: Aho sneaks wrister past Holtby for SHG

The Capitals also got a power play when Saku Maenalanen was called for delay of game 2:02 into the second overtime but they didn't have a shot on goal.

"Had a few decent looks, but for the most part the execution in that area and in other areas during the series wasn't as good as we would have hoped," Reirden said.

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