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NHL PLAYOFFS: At crunch time, Caps get crushed
WASHINGTON—Crafted as a team that should consistently achieve a reasonable measure of success, the Washington Capitals have found in recent years that their triumphs have purely been restricted to the regular season.
They have won the Southeast Division five times in the last six years, typically requiring every last game on the schedule to move onto the next stage of play. So, too, has been the case in the postseason, with seven of the nine series requiring the maximum seven games.
The Capitals have turned prolonged uncertainty into an art form, though the final strokes have rarely been the touches of beauty. Washington, bogged down by inconsistencies, lost 5–0 to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the teams’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on Monday at Verizon Center, bringing a swift end to an already shortened season.
“Quite honestly, tough to explain,” head coach Adam Oates said. “I wish I had an answer for that.”
In falling to New York, the Capitals squandered victories in the first two games and could not take advantage of a 3–2 lead with home ice advantage. The sixth-seeded Rangers, the first team to win on the road in the series, will advance to play Boston in the next round beginning Thursday.
Five different players scored for New York, which handed the Capitals their largest loss since a seven-goal clunker against Pittsburgh in their first playoff game in 2000. The star, though, was goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who turned away 35 shots for his second consecutive shutout and didn’t crack even on the rare occasion when the Capitals were knocking at his doorstep.
Braden Holtby had just 22 saves for Washington and was weighed down by a porous defense. While two of the first three goals he allowed were the result of deflections, he looked particularly lost in the third period, when a turnover by John Erskine led to a breakaway goal by Ryan Callahan and Mats Zuccarello deked him out of his skates.
The five previous games between the teams in the series had been decided by one goal, with two—Game 3 and Game 5—won by the Capitals in overtime.
Monday was nothing of the sort. Washington tried to set a physical, aggressive tone early and created several scoring chances with a strong forecheck that kept the puck in the offensive zone. Their vigorous play was punctuated by Alex Ovechkin, who had four hits in the first 10 minutes and 13 overall, including a 20-second sequence in which he knocked laid out Rangers defensemen John Moore and Ryan McDonagh midway through the first.
But New York’s first goal, 13:42 into the first period, changed that. Lundqvist denied Mike Green’s breakaway opportunity—at that point the Capitals’ best scoring chance—and then passed the puck up to Chris Kreider, who led a rush the other way.
Kreider left the puck for Arron Asham at the top of the right faceoff circle, and Asham, who had just two goals during the regular season and also scored in Game 3, buried a snap shot that glanced off defenseman Jack Hillen’s stick and fluttered past Holtby’s gloved left hand.
The Rangers piled on with their second and third goals early in the second period. While Holtby stopped Steve Eminger’s slap shot from the right point and battled Derek Dorsett for the rebound, Taylor Pyatt swooped in and tapped the puck past the goal line at the 3:24 mark.
Michael Del Zotto then pushed the lead to 3–0 when his shot from the left point at 5:34 glanced off the left skate of a diving Troy Brouwer. Callahan scored his first goal of the series just 13 seconds into the third period, then Zuccarello added his at 6:39.
The Capitals had two power plays in which they could not score, but they also killed both of the Rangers’ penalties. They entered the playoffs with the top-ranked power play but went just 3-for-16 in the series, though they held the Rangers to 2-for-28 with the advantage.
Ovechkin took one shot on goal and had four others blocked, leaving him with just one goal and one assist in the series. Washington has won just two of the seven times they’ve played in a Game 7 with their star winger, and the Capitals are now 1-for-4 in Game 7 at home since 2008.
They opened this season by losing nine of their first 11 games, their worst start in nearly two decades, but finished as one of the league’s hottest teams by winning 15 of their final 19 games.
“I felt like we battled through all seven games, and you know, we’ll learn from it,” Holtby said. “We’ll build from it. We still have a main goal in mind, and however long it takes us to achieve it, we’ll keep working until we do.”
N.Y. Rangers 1 2 2 — 5
Washington 0 0 0 — 0
First Period—1, N.Y. Rangers, Asham 2 (Kreider), 13:19. Penalties_Asham, NYR (roughing), 18:42.
Second Period—2, N.Y. Rangers, Pyatt 1 (Dorsett, Eminger), 3:24. 3, N.Y. Rangers, Del Zotto 1 (Brassard, Nash), 5:34. Penalties_None.
Third Period—4, N.Y. Rangers, Callahan 1, :13. 5, N.Y. Rangers, Zuccarello 1 (Brassard, Eminger), 6:39. Penalties_Brouwer, Was (slashing), 3:28; Eminger, NYR (delay of game), 12:39; Ribeiro, Was, misconduct, 16:28; Brouwer, Was (slashing), 16:28.
Shots on Goal—N.Y. Rangers 9-8-10_27. Washington 13-13-9–35. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Rangers 0 of 2; Washington 0 of 2. Goalies—N.Y. Rangers, Lundqvist 4-3-0 (35 shots-35 saves). Washington, Holtby 3-4-0 (27-22). A—18,506 (18,506). T–2:27. Referees—Chris Rooney, Dan O’Rourke. Linesmen–Jean Morin, Brian Murphy.
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