Alex Ovechkin thinks the Washington Capitals’ inability to win a postseason series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 is very messed up.
They can only blame themselves this time.
After his team’s Game 6 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers on Friday night, Ovechkin remarked, “We had it, but we just blow it away.”
“It is our responsibility.”
There were plenty of ready-made reasons in the past, ranging from coaching flaws in 2019 and 2020 to a slew of injuries in 2021.
After hurting his left shoulder late in the regular season, Ovechkin was not 100 percent healthy this spring, but he and the Capitals adopted the philosophy of “No excuses,” which was even printed on their playoff clothing.
There were no excuses for another early exit after leading 1-0 and 2-1 in the first-round series and holding leads in each of the final three games.
T.J. Oshie, who has six goals and was Washington’s best player in the series, said, “The last couple of years we’ve been down, and teams have kind of had their way with us a little bit.”
“In the last couple of years, I don’t think the all-in aspect was fully there.”
“This year, I believe we were very close to having 100 percent of the team on board, but we let three games slip away. The margin of error is very thin in the playoffs.”
Capitals are far from the only team to learn the hard lesson about the margin of error in playoff hockey, though this was an especially harsh case against the NHL’s top regular-season squad and highest-scoring attack.
They lost in overtime after allowing Florida to tie Game 4 in the waning minutes.
They lost a 3-0 lead in Game 5 against Florida, falling behind in the series. And they let the Panthers come back to win Game 6 and end the series, despite Carter Verhaeghe’s heroics in overtime after T.J. Oshie knotted it with 1:03 left in regulation.
“I think it aches considerably more because we had a lot of time when the series was in our hands,” top defenseman John Carlson said.
“Putting away games when the time comes has also been something we’ve been strong at throughout the year, and we’ve come up short a lot.”
The Capitals are once again facing an uncertain offseason after falling short in the playoffs.
General manager Brian MacLellan is unable to make sweeping changes to the roster due to long-term contracts for core, seasoned players.
However, there will be changes.
With goaltenders Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, Capitals are unlikely to make it back for a third consecutive season.
Samsonov took over as the starter for the playoffs starting with Game 3 and played well until some issues in Florida’s series-clinching game, but he may have more value in the trade market, and Vanecek might be a reliable 1B goalkeeper moving forward.
With the salary cap increasing by only $1 million, Capitals may need to make room for a more experienced goaltender.
Because young Connor McMichael may now be ready for a full-time NHL position in the middle, third-line centre Lars Eller, who has one year left on his deal, would be a sensible guy to transfer.
All of this is contingent on Nicklas Backstrom’s health, as he missed the first two months of the season due to a nagging hip issue and may require another full summer of training to fully recover.
Backstrom’s absence makes it difficult for Washington to compete for a playoff berth, let alone another title.
Capitals will need a big injection of youthful talent to win the Cup again during this period, with Ovechkin turning 37 in September, Oshie 35, Backstrom 34, and Carlson 32.
Despite going in as an underdog, the prevailing emotion was more about a squandered opportunity than anything else moments after another chance to progress in the playoffs and take that shot slipped away.
Coach Peter Laviolette stated, “It’s upsetting.”
“I believe our guys gave it their all. We had chances to win, and we played them hard against a team who proved to be the best in the league. The games could have gone in either direction. They just didn’t work out for us.”
“I believe you should let that section settle in your stomach for a time,” he added.
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