Through 40 minutes of Game 7, the Washington Capitals controlled a strong portion of the play.
They had an edge in shots on goal. They had an edge in shot attempts. They just didn’t have the edge in goals, which matter most in a single game, winner-take-all situation, after being unable to beat Marc-Andre Fleury, who had struggled in the previous two games, or more specifically, the previous four periods.
In the end, the disappointment and anger of another playoff failure emerged again as the Capitals couldn’t complete what would’ve been an incredible comeback from down three games to one against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
The second round remains a hurdle the Capitals have not been able to conquer. Not since 1998, anyway. Five of their last six playoff appearances (six appearances in the last seven years) have ended in the second round.
Down by one goal entering the third period, a situation in which a comeback is more than possible, the Capitals had just six shots on goal against Fleury. They eventually fell down by a pair of goals and then couldn’t manufacture much in the way of a dangerous scoring opportunity after that, leaving the ice once again after another early playoff exit.
The Penguins played a great third period. The Capitals, with their season and legacy on the line, could not match that. Which is troubling.
“I don’t think the urgency was there,” said Alex Ovechkin. “We just didn’t execute our chances.”
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby agreed with a suggestion that there was more anger from the Capitals following this latest playoff elimination — in a year when they were again Presidents’ Trophy winners with such a deep and talented roster favored to win it all — than the sadness from a year ago.
“Last year, we were in a close game, played well in Game 6 and … overtime,”said Holtby.
“I think tonight — I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance and we’re going to have to live with that and take full responsibility for that. It’s not what we worked for.”
The Capitals had given themselves a chance at a Game 7 after roaring back in Games 5 and 6 of this series. But they put themselves in a precarious position with two losses — including an ugly 6-2 defeat in Game 2 — at the beginning of the series and that was costly.
“We didn’t lose the series tonight. We lost it the first three games, four games,” said Nicklas Backstrom.
Another playoff disappointment ushers in an offseason of uncertainty for the Capitals. Their general manager, Brian MacLellan, said in February of 2016 that his club was in a two-year window to win it all.
“We’re going to have some decisions to make as far as veteran players, and our young guys are going to be due for some pay raises,” he said at the time.
According to CapFriendly, the Capitals have 12 players on expiring contracts at the end of this season. That includes five notable pending unrestricted free agents — T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.
“When you lose the right to keep playing, when you’re in the playoffs and you feel that you can be a team that can … do some damage, it always is a bitter pill to swallow,” said coach Barry Trotz.