March 29, 2017

Opinion: Answers not easily found, but must be discovered quickly for Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Will Ovi ever hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup? (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin’s latest spring postmortem might well have been his toughest yet. The 30-year-old has been the face of the Washington Capitals for over a decade, and the quickly-graying Russian welled up in Pittsburgh late Tuesday night after his team again fell short of the championship and accompanying long playoff run that this city will continue to wait for.

“Every year, lots of expectations, lots of great players, something missing. This group of guys can do better and bigger than just the second round,” Ovechkin said. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 6 Recap: Disappointment again

CAPS RALLY FROM THREE-GOAL DEFICIT BUT BOUNCED IN OVERTIME

 (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Yup. We all feel that way. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals rallied from a three-goal deficit to force overtime, but once there they were overwhelmed and Nick Bonino scored 6:32 into the extra session to promote the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, sending the President’s Trophy winning Caps packing, once again.

It was, perhaps, the most Caps-like way of being eliminated from a playoff series.

Logically, it shouldn’t have gotten to overtime. The Penguins came out focused and flying, dominating the Caps in all facets of the game though the first 38 minutes. Phil Kessel put the Pens up 1-0 in the first, then Brooks Orpik was assessed a double-minor high-sticking penalty, and Kessel and Carl Hagelin made it 3-0, cashing in on both penalties, midway though the second period.

But T.J. Oshie got the Caps on the board with a power play goal with 1:30 left in the second, giving the Caps some hope going into the third. Then Justin Williams added one 7:23 into the third period and suddenly a comeback looked do-able. Then things got weird, as the Penguins were assessed three consecutive delay-of-game penalties, giving the Caps a pair of five-on-three power plays.

They made good on just one, however, with John Carlson’s rocket tying the game at three with 13:01 left in regulation.

Both teams had good opportunities down the stretch, but as they had all series, Braden Holtby and Matt Murray stood tall and kept things deadlocked to force an extra session.

Unfortunately for the road team, the Penguins came out on fire once again in overtime. A sequence early should have ended it there, but Holtby made several “how did he do that” saves, and Jay Beagle dove to deflect a puck off the goal line, only to prolong the agony.

Bonino’s game winner came off another excellent save by Holtby, a low kick save, but Matt Niskanen was unable to tie up the Pens’ forward and Bonino got just enough of the rebound on the backhand to sneak it past the prone Holtby and into the gaping net.

There are no clever words to describe the disappointment for this Caps team being eliminated in the second round, prolonging the District’s bizarre tenure of being the only city with at least three of the four major sports not advancing a team into a conference finals since the last time the Caps did it in 1998.

This team seemed to be “built the right way.” It rolled four lines all season long, and had legitimate NHL forwards in the press box most nights. Could they use another defenseman? Sure, but who can’t? As they’re constructed, the Caps have a nice blend of youth and experience and should challenge the top of the conference again next season.

That doesn’t help now, though. For now, it’s disappointment, yet again.

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 3 Recap: Everything but the win

CAPS CONTROL PLAY BUT NOT SCOREBOARD; LETANG HIT ON JOHANSSON TO BE REVIEWED

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals got two third-period goals but couldn’t find the equalizer and dropped Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, before a capacity crowd decked out in yellow t-shirts at Consol Energy Center.

Typically, when a team outshoots the other 49-23 — including 21-9 in the third — the outcome is predictable. Unfortunately, these things seem to happen to the Caps more often than not in the playoffs. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 2 Recap: Fehr’s late tip tops Caps

OUTPLAYED MUCH OF GAME, CAPS CAN’T FIND THE GO-AHEAD IN THIRD

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

For much of the second half of the regular season, the Washington Capitals got into a habit of playing 20-25 minutes with enough energy to pull out a favorable result. On Saturday night at a raucous Verizon Center, it wasn’t nearly enough.

Old friend Eric Fehr tipped an entry pass from Evgeni Malkin past Braden Holtby late in the third period and the Pittsburgh Penguins evened their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup with the Caps at a game apiece with a 2-1 regulation win. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 1: Oshie’s hat trick, overtime winner propel Caps in Game 1 win

With dozens of hats sailing to the Verizon Center playing surface and Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” playing over the public address system, the ultimate outcome of the opening game in the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins lay still in doubt.

Fans begged for T.J. Oshie’s hat-trick goal, the game-winning wraparound 9:33 into the overtime session, to stand as called on the ice. The building’s pressure-cooker status reached its peak as referee Dan O’Rourke took off his headset after a review that seemingly lasted as long as this all-time playoff contest itself.

His affirmation of the goal resulted in a raucous scene of euphoria. What more often than not felt like the first round of a heavyweight title bout brought a 4-3 decision in favor of the hosts, the latest step in the to-be-determined journey of this team that, at least for now, wears the hopes of its city on its back.

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals First Round Game 3: Caps take 3-0 series lead after penalty filled affair

OVECHKIN TAKES FRANCHISE RECORD FOR PLAYOFF POINTS; ORPIK EXITS AFTER ROUGH HIT

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Ima

With a high-tension game that ended with a five-minute major against the Philadephia Flyers, two ten-minute game misconducts, and a delay-of-game penalty assessed to the Flyers’ fans, the Washington Capitals silenced the Wells Fargo Center and took game three of the series 6-1.

The Capitals scored five power-play goals, the most in their history in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. They were 5 for 9 and are 8 for 17 with the man-advantage in the series.

The goal scoring in the first, when Marcus Johansson added anther point to his stellar first-round sheet. On the very first power play, John Carlson took a shot from just inside the blue line and the puck deflected just of Johansson’s shin. Adding his first goal of the series to his five assists, Johansson grabbed his sixth point in the series to trail only Nicklas Backstrom and Carlson (7 apiece).

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals First Round Game 2 Recap: Holtby stellar as Caps build series lead

HOLTBY MAKES 41 SAVES TO LIFT CAPS TO 2-0 SERIES LEAD

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

After a physical Game 1, the Washington Capitals came in to Game 2 expecting nothing less from the Philadelphia Flyers, except maybe that they would ratchet the hitting, antagonizing and overall agitating up even another notch. That was certainly the case — and then some — as the Flyers controlled play in just about every facet…except the scoreboard.

Braden Holtby was again exceptional, especially in a first period where the Flyers got 18 shots, and the Caps were the beneficiaries of one of the strangest goals you’ll ever see, and the Caps beat the Flyers 4-1 before a raucous Saturday night crowd at Verizon Center to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Flyers came out, well, flying, at the start of Game 2, outshooting the Caps 7-1 in the first few minutes.

It was Washington that got the first power-play opportunity, and they made good on it. The Flyers tried to clear with a lob, but John Carlson caught it open-gloved to keep it in the zone. Stung, he passed it off twice before trying a shot, and his wrister from center point got through a double-high screen and past Steve Mason to put the Caps up 1-0, despite being outplayed.

The Caps managed to avoid the early penalty calls they suffered in Game 1, but it caught up to them late in the first, with Jason Chimera and Carlson both whistled for cross-checks within 50 seconds of each other late.

But as he’s been all season long, Holtby (41 saves) was the Caps’ best player, turning aside the Flyers on every opportunity and the first ended with the Caps up by one.

Early in the second, Washington made it 2-0 on one of the all-time strangest plays. After a tie-up at center ice, both teams went for a change and Chimera sent a soft backhanded deflection toward the Flyers cage. Mason went down to block it, but it somehow eluded him and went right between his legs and behind him into the net. It needs to be seen to be believed.

It stayed that way for about seven minutes before the Flyers got back in it. On an odd-man rush, Brooks Orpik got caught playing a man instead of the puck and it slipped right between his legs to the awaiting stick of Jakob Voracek, who flipped it past Holtby to trim their deficit to one.

But just before the second intermission, Mark Streit was whistled for holding, giving the Caps’ vaunted power play another opportunity. Backstrom held at the half-boards, then slipped a pass through T.J. Oshie’s legs – a play they work on in practice — to Alex Ovechkin in his normal spot in the left wing circle. The Great 8 made no mistake, ramming it home to make it 3-1 before the break.

The Caps were content to play dump and chase most of the third period, but with just over two minutes left, Nick Backstrom carried in on the right wing and when Mason went down thinking about the pass Backstrom called his own number for the insurance goal and a 4-1 lead.

The series moves to Philadelphia for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday.

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 7 Recap: Heartbreak, thy name is Caps

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.

HEARTBREAK

The Washington Capitals will not advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

A goal off a rebound by Derek Stepan at 11:24 of overtime lifted the New York Rangers over the Caps 2-1, sending the Caps home from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

We’ll have more coverage very soon at District Sports Page.

OPINION: Caps must find better effort in Game 7 or risk history repeating itself

If you’re one of those fans that always looks on the bright side of things, that wants to see the positive, that hopes for the best… you might want to stop reading now. I’m not going to go on about how the Washington Capitals franchise is cursed (it’s not) or that the league wants the team from the bigger television market to win (it might, but that doesn’t influence games). But I am going to lay down some pretty harsh thoughts about the boys in red.

They simply don’t play hard enough for long enough stretches to win.

That’s a harsh thing to say, I know. But until the Caps finally do win and change the script, that’s going to stick with them as long as they play the game.

Throughout this season, the Caps have adopted coach Barry Trotz’ idea of “heavy hockey.” It took until the last week of the season to qualify for the playoffs, and the last day of the season to clinch anything but a last-seed in. Only through an utter collapse by the New York Islanders and the fluke of losing a shootout on the last day of the season did the Caps “earn” first round home ice.

The Caps obviously have some talent on the roster. But there’s not enough to outplay similarly skilled teams, they have to outwork them as well.

The Caps played that heavy hockey successfully in the first round, wearing down the smaller Islanders until they were finally able to deliver the knockout punch, but any honest Caps fan knows that their favorite team was outplayed much of that series and if the Islanders were a little more composed or had a little more experience, it easily could have gone the other way.

Then onto the current series with the Rangers, where again despite being outplayed for long periods of time the Caps were finally on the right side of a couple of lucky bounces and found themselves up three games to one. For once, folks were starting to believe maybe, just maybe, it was going to be the Caps that came from a lower seed to upset a heavily favored President’s Trophy winner.

So what happened to change the mood so much in three days? It’s not curse, conspiracy or choke.

When Curtis Glencross scored midway through the third period of Game 5, the Caps were nine minutes, six seconds away from advancing to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 1998.

Instead of playing the final minutes of Game 5 like their hair was on fire, taking their game to the Rangers and dictating play the way they got the 3-1 series advantage, they took their foot off the gas. With no margin of error, the Caps played back — “turtled” — hoping to survive the Rangers heroic onslaught.

They were not successful.

It came as a shock to no one that once Chris Kreider tied it with 1:51 left, the air was let out of their sails. The Rangers didn’t need overtime to beat the Caps, they’d already done it to themselves.

It’s cliché to say you play “to win the game.” But every cliché is written with history as a guide. Greatness isn’t forged by trying to not lose. You have to take it for yourself. When have you seen a champion — in any sport or athletic feat — win by playing conservatively or cautiously?

Simply put, after Glencross’ goal in Game 5, the Caps didn’t start playing aggressively again until midway through the third period of Game 6 when they were already down 4-1. They were trying not to lose instead of trying to win.

What we saw from that point forward was absolute domination from the Caps, in effort, intensity and skill. Were the Rangers a bit relaxed with their gift-wrapped three-goal lead? Sure. Did they weather the just over 15-minute storm. Just barely.

But the rules still apply. The Rangers took their foot off the gas and only because they had a three-goal cushion and happen to roster the best goalie in the world (for my money) were they able to withstand the barrage the Caps unleashed at them.

The point is this: the Caps must finally find a killer instinct in Game 7. They’re capable of it — we witnessed it Sunday night. But they have to sustain it for the entire 60 minutes, and whatever overtime may come too. Despite where the Caps sit, with the ability still to advance to a conference final, it’s shocking we still haven’t seen that complete effort — even in the games they’ve won, as long as we’re being honest about it.

It’s remarkable at this point and time in this franchise’s history — and the tenure of their best players — that we’re still having this conversation. Yet, here we are. The Capitals must have better, consistent and thorough effort in Game 7 or we’ll simply be watching history repeat itself. Again.

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