If you wanted a script for what the Washington Capitals playoff experience is like their 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday was perhaps the most perfect example that could have ever been put on the ice.
Matt Calvert‘s game-winning goal at the 12:22 mark over the overtime period lifted the Blue Jackets to the win and sent the Capitals to their second consecutive overtime loss to open the series, putting them in a 2-0 hole as it shifts to Columbus on Tuesday night.
Honestly, it might have been the quintessential Capitals playoff game because it had a little bit of everything that has happened to this team over the better part of the past … well … let us just say their entire existence.
You wanted to see more from Alex Ovechkin? Perfect!
He was great, scoring two goals and finishing with 17 total shot attempts, including 10 on net. He played 30 minutes, was everywhere, and helped the Capitals own a 29-13 total shot attempts advantage when he was on the ice (via hockeystats.ca). Not much else one player can do, and it was just the sort of effort you want to see from your best player in a playoff game.
Epecially one in which your team is trailing in the series.
But it was not just him that showed up for the Capitals.
Despite the result on the scoreboard they carried the play, especially during 5-on-5 play, for most of the night and outshot Columbus by a 58-30 margin, only to be shut down by another spectacular goaltending performance, this time by Sergei Bobrovsky playing the role of Jaroslav Halak. It was not just the fact that Bobrovsky had to face 58 shots. He had to face quality shots and all night was making highlight reel saves. For a goalie that entered the playoffs with questions about his recent playoff experiences he did quite a bit to quiet those concerns.
That sort of shot disparity is usually — usually! — enough to win a playoff game. According to the hockey-reference database this was only the 12th playoff game where a team had at least 55 shots on goal and allowed 30 or less.
The previous 11 teams were 9-2 in those games. Seven of those games went to overtime , where the team with the shot advantage was 6-1.
Once again, there was a lot here that should have resulted in a win, especially with the way they were able to open the game.
For the second game in a row they built up a two-goal lead (on Sunday they actually had two different two goal leads — 2-0 and 3-1) and seemed to have Columbus on the ropes.
In terms of the way they actually played they did enough to get a win and even the series.
So what went wrong to result in another soul-crushing defeat?
Well, let’s start with discipline.
For the second game in a row they took some really poorly timed penalties and could not stay out of the penalty box, resulting in Columbus scoring two more huge power play goals. For the second game in a row Tom Wilson — a regular on the Capitals’ penalty kill — was sitting in the box for one of those Columbus power play goals.
To be fair the Blue Jackets had their own lapses here, especially in the final six minutes of regulation. Maybe it all evened out in the end. But you can not take those penalties game after game.
Then there is goaltending.
Nothing can turn completely swing a playoff game or a series the way goaltending can. A hot goalie can steal one. A cold goalie can lose one. On Sunday we kind of saw both.
While Bobrovsky was making 54 saves (many of them spectacular), Phillipp Grubauer was getting benched after the second period for giving up eight goals in his first seven periods of hockey in the series, posting a dismal .836 save percentage.
That all happened after he took over the No. 1 job from Braden Holtby entering the series.
Holtby, of course, is a goalie that won the Vezina Trophy two years ago, was a finalist a season ago, and has the second best postseason save percentage in NHL history (minimum 50 games played). You can look at his down year and argue that Grubauer was the hot hand coming into the series if you wanted to, but he’s still Braden Holtby. He’s still one of the best goalies in the league. And he started the series on the bench while the guy that replaced him struggled. A lot.
Put all of that together and you have where the series is sitting now.
Washington has to now go on the road for two games and is in a position where it has to win four out of the next five games in order to avoid what would be yet another disappointing, and all too premature postseason exit.
Given the way the Capitals played the first two games of the series there is every reason to believe they are perfectly capable of doing that.
But given the way they played those first two games there is every reason to believe they should have won at least one of those games.
That is the beauty — or agony, depending on your perspective — of playoff hockey. It doesn’t care about who deserves anything. Things happen. Sometimes weird things. Frustrating things. Nobody knows that more than the Washington Capitals.
Perhaps no game encapsulated all of that more than Game 2 on Sunday.
Welcome to the Washington Capitals playoff experience. It is quite the ride.