The Washington Capitals will not advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
A rebound goal by Derek Stepan 11:24 into overtime lifted the New York Rangers over the Caps 2-1 and into the ECF against the Tampa Bay Lightning while the Caps will head back to Kettler Capitals Iceplex to clean out their lockers and dwell on the missed opportunities of Games 5 and 6.
They should not dwell on “what could have been” in Game 7 because Game 7 was a classic, in every sense of the word.
The Caps and Rangers played even for 60 minutes, with a first period goal by — who else — Alex Ovechkin — and a second period equalizer by Kevin Hayes the only transgressions against the ledgers of Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist, who were both superb yet again.
So of course, more time was needed to settle it. As if anyone concerned could have imagined any other scenario.
Much has been written, and much more will be added, to the storied and sordid history of the Caps not being able to close out playoff series. The loss to the Rangers makes the 10th time in franchise history this franchise has been unable to win a series they led by two games. They are 0-5 now in Game 7 after leading a series three games to one.
When history looks back on this series, it will be painted as just another blown series for the Caps, the perennial “choking dogs.” Lazy sportwriters will dwell on it, in fact, thinking it will make them look cool, smart or funny. They are none of those things.
The Capitals played Game 7 with total effort from start to finish. It was simply one of the best games in these playoffs, let alone the series. They lost in overtime to the team with the best record in the league and the best goalie (for my money) on the planet. They played these Rangers toe-to-toe the entire series and lost to the better team.
No choke. No curse. No conspiracy.
The Rangers were simply the better team. But it wasn’t by much. In fact, the narrowest of margins.
There will be plenty of folks that will mock these words, using bravado and arrogance to deflect their disappointment that the Caps — these Caps, not the Caps from 1987, 1992, 1995 or 2010 — lost in the most agonizing of fashions. It’s always hard to accept defeat.
But this version of the Washington Capitals proved that when they play with complete effort for 60 minutes they can play with the best team in the league, losing only on the bounce of a puck.
For the long haul, there are lessons to be learned, and holes to fill. Young players got a tremendous amount of particular experience. The veterans found out how Barry Trotz manages his team in the playoffs.
But for now, there is heartbreak.
Hockey is hard. If it were easy, everyone would win a Cup. Twenty-nine teams lose every year. Be disappointed, but keep the faith. Next season will come sooner than you think.