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What went wrong for Caps?

by Dan Rosen
WASHINGTON -- Nobody in the sullen Washington Capitals' dressing room late Wednesday night summed up his feelings better than forward Jason Chimera.

"If someone came to your work and stepped on your desk or punched you in the head," Chimera said, "that's how it feels."

Indeed, the Montreal Canadiens came into the Capitals' office and stomped on their dreams. The Habs became the first eighth seed in NHL history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat a No. 1 seed. They won three of their four games at Verizon Center, including a stunning 2-1 win in Game 7 behind Jaroslav Halak's 41 saves and their equally impressive 41 blocked shots.

Montreal opens the second round in Pittsburgh Friday (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).

The Capitals probably won't watch.

A promising season filled with Stanley Cup aspirations was flushed away by 9:37 p.m. ET Wednesday. After it seemed like nothing could go wrong for 82 games, the Capitals did not have a whole lot go right against the Habs. They were outscored 9-3 in the seven first periods and 6-1 on the power play. Washington's power play was a dreadful 1-for-33 after clicking on one of every four chances during the regular season.

Alexander Semin, a 40-goal scorer in the regular season, didn't put one of his 44 shots past either Halak or Carey Price; he was 0-for-8 in Game 7. Tomas Fleischmann, who had 23 goals in the regular season, was so ineffective (0 goals, 8 shots) that he was a healthy scratch for Game 7.

Mike Green, a Norris Trophy finalist, will face plenty of criticism -- some warranted, some unjust -- for his play. He had no goals, 3 assists and six minor penalties. He was in the box for the Habs' first goal Wednesday and on the ice for their second.

Alex Ovechkin probably was the Capitals' best player in the series with 5 goals, 5 assists and a plus-5 rating, but since he's the captain of the team and the face of the franchise, fair or unfair, it'll be his mug shot that goes on the wall.

Even in saying all that, fans in the Beltway that rocked the red all season long woke up Thursday morning in a fog, wondering what the heck happened to their beloved team. How did something so sweet get so sour? We can think of five reasons in particular:

1. Dreadful power play -- We've already stated it once in this piece, but it's probably what Washington will most remember from this short postseason run. As Nicklas Backstrom emphatically confirmed Wednesday night, the Capitals' power play is the reason they did not win the series.

One-for-33 is ridiculous and embarrassing.

"I think us guys who are on the power play, we have to take blame on it," Backstrom said. "(Coach) Bruce (Boudreau) told us what to do and sometimes we didn't do that and we didn't work hard enough. That's us players who weren't good enough there."

2. No secondary scoring -- Ovechkin and Backstrom were rendered ineffective for large portions of the series by the defense tandem of Hal Gill and Josh Gorges. Ovechkin had a goal and an assist in the final three games, while Backstrom was held to 1 assist.

You almost could accept that if Semin, Fleischmann, Green, Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr were productive. They combined for 7 goals, with Fehr leading the way with a respectable 3 and Laich and Knuble chipping in with 2.

"Nobody tried as much as Alex and Nicky, and sometimes you just don't score goals," Boudreau said. "They didn't have success in the last three games scoring -- those two guys that I mentioned -- but they tried as hard as they could. In the end, it's not them. You can take certain guys away; it's the secondary scoring that has to come."

3. Zero killer instinct -- After taking a 3-1 lead in the series, Boudreau repeatedly was asked about the Capitals' killer instinct. He answered honestly by saying he'd have to wait to see if they have it because there is no evidence that would support a claim that said they did at the time.

Boudreau was right to wait, and now he has an offseason to wonder. Washington could not, for lack of a better term, step on the Habs' collective throats and close the series.

"The season is the season, and this is the second season and it's the much harder season," Ovechkin said. "It was great to go up 3-1 in the series. It's only one more step to reach four, but we didn't get it."

4. Never got the lead -- You have to wonder what would have happened if the Capitals could have taken a lead in any one of the final three games. Instead of a conservative trap, the Canadiens would have had to press for the equalizer and the Capitals could have pounced for more.

It happened in Game 4 when they scored three goals within a span of 7:27 to chase Halak, but it never happened again. Montreal outscored the Capitals 9-3 in the first period of games and 5-0 in the first period Games 5-7. The Habs scored twice within the first 10 minutes of Games 5 and 6, and then got Marc-Andre Bergeron's dagger with 29.1 seconds before the first intermission in Game 7.

"Some guys are allowed a little bit more leeway to do things offensively, but defensively we're all supposed to have bought in. But we never got the lead," Boudreau said. "It's frustrating. You're so used to doing something and you only score one goal a game after it comers so easy pretty well for 82 games."

5. Halak happened -- He has to do it for three more rounds to really earn those comparisons to Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden, but if Gary Bettman was to hand out the Conn Smythe Trophy for each round, Halak would be a lock.

He was pulled in Game 3 and benched in Game 4, but coach Jacques Martin said he was going back to the Slovak in Game 5 because every time the Habs needed to win a big game during the regular season, Halak was got the call.

Halak made 37 saves in Game 5. His 53 saves in Game 6 broke Dryden's 39-year-old franchise record for most saves in a non-overtime playoff game. And he made his 41 saves in Game 7.

"If that goalie can play the same way as he played the last three games, anything can happen," Boudreau said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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