The Bruins became the first team in the East Division to advance to the Second Round after eliminating the Capitals in Game 5. As hard as the Capitals fought in Game 5, they fell to the Bruins 3-1.
First and foremost, Tuukka Rask was once again brilliant. Beyond Rask, other key Bruins came through where Capitals’ top stars could not.
After dropping Game 1 in overtime, the Bruins won four straight games to eliminate the Capitals. This felt closer than a 4-1 series score, but that’s how it ended up.
Let’s touch on some of the reasons why the Bruins won Game 5, and eliminated the Capitals, in general.
Bruins’ best were better than Capitals’ best — including in Game 5
The Bruins generating a 2-0 lead in the second period of Game 5 must have been especially crushing for the Capitals.
After a scoreless opening frame, the Capitals generated a 20-4 shots on goal advantage in the second period. Despite that disparity, the Bruins scored both goals during the middle frame, and the difference must have felt glaring for the Capitals on this David Pastrnak goal:
To some extent, the Bruins’ best players have just been that good. That certainly extends to the deeply underrated Tuukka Rask, who’s been on fire during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Aside from Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, the Capitals’ top players struggled to score. Anthony Mantha managed two assists through the first four games of the series, but no goals. Nicklas Backstrom looked especially off, only generating one helper.
This was probably the worst playoff series of Nicklas Backstrom's career.
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) May 24, 2021
As much as you need unsung heroes during a deep playoff run — Capitals fans can point to the likes of Joel Ward — it’s none ideal when they’re doing so much heavy lifting.
Some soul-searching for Washington?
For the second straight postseason, there was at least the occasional sense that the Capitals were “out of gas.”
Sometimes, things look worse simply when you’re losing. In particular, things feel dour when you’re struggling to score. You’d be beyond foolish to claim that the effort wasn’t there for the Capitals vs. the Bruins in Game 5.
But it’s fair to ask if the Capitals might want to consider “load management” and other rest-related considerations. Ponder, for a moment, the advancing age of core players:
- Alex Ovechkin is 35, and needs a new deal.
- Backstrom is 33, while T.J. Oshie is 34. (Some of us will groan about our own advancing age there.)
- John Carlson is 31, and basically all of Washington’s most prominent defensemen are in that range.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov, 29, might be on his way out. But that hinges on someone taking on his not-insignificant $7.8M AAV (through 2024-25). Might be a tough sell if this season understandably soured some on Kuznetsov.
- They even got marginally older in exchanging Jakub Vrana for Anthony Mantha.
Don’t get this twisted. This isn’t to say that the Capitals are ancient. Still, sometimes the aging curve can create drastic dives. Other times, that decline can be subtler.
When you’re facing elite teams like the Bruins, is that where the Capitals need that extra “oomph?” Could they do more to give Ovechkin, Backstrom, and others valuable rest? (With Ovechkin chasing Gretzky’s goals record, that might be a tough sell. But he probably hasn’t been feeling great lately, as he limped into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.)
Again, not necessarily material for a panic. The Capitals should at least think this over, as they couldn’t get over the hump against the Islanders last year, and couldn’t solve the Bruins here.