Capitals’ core hits another wall as tough questions emerge upon first-round exit

In the moments after the Capitals’ season was over Friday, after handshakes had been finished and solely disappointment remained, Alex Ovechkin slowly skated close to the benches and gave his keep on with the gang. So a lot of Washington’s marketing campaign had been concerning the Russian — from the 36-year-old’s scoring pursuit to the controversy over his help of Vladimir Putin  — however now, Ovechkin was the final participant off the ice. 

The actuality rapidly set in: Washington’s 4-3 time beyond regulation loss to the Florida Panthers formally marked the fourth straight season that the Capitals didn’t advance out of the primary spherical. This collection might have been essentially the most painful for Washington’s gamers in that span given how winnable it appeared. The Capitals held leads during the last three video games — and misplaced every of them. 

In 2018, Ovechkin celebrated the top of his season by consuming out of the Stanley Cup on the Georgetown Waterfront. Four years later, there was no celebration in sight Friday as Ovechkin sat to reply questions equivalent to whether or not Washington’s veteran core was nonetheless able to profitable deep into the playoffs.

“Kinda (messed) up situation,” Ovechkin stated of the Capitals’ current playoff struggles. 

The Capitals have heard and answered these questions earlier than. They confronted them frequently earlier than profitable a championship — a title that purchased them an quantity of goodwill from followers, whilst they had been bounced from the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and Boston Bruins earlier than this. 

But Washington can’t escape them now. Not with their incapacity to shut out video games. Not with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie of their mid-30s. 

So, pardon the repetition, however are we positive this core nonetheless has it in them? 

“If you’ve been there before, you know what it takes,” Backstrom stated. “To answer your question, yes, I think so. But obviously the margins are very small out there. It doesn’t take a lot to make mistakes out there. That’s just sports in general I think.”

Ovechkin and Backstrom each centered on how the Capitals weren’t capable of end in opposition to the Panthers. Friday’s Game 6 was a microcosm of Washington’s issues. The Capitals took a 2-1 lead simply 1:37 into the third, however Florida once more stormed again with two objectives of its personal. Washington was even barely greater than a minute away from shedding in regulation, however a 6-on-4 powerplay resulted in an Oshie purpose with 1:03 left to tie the competition. 

Despite the push to pressure the sport to time beyond regulation, the Capitals misplaced as a result of they had been unable to include the Panther that had bothered all of them collection. Florida middle Carter Verhaeghe snuck one previous Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov after receiving the go from Claude Giroux. The rating was Verhaeghe’s sixth purpose within the final six video games — and so in fact he was going to be the one to complete Washington off. 

To recap, the Panthers — “the Comeback Cats” as they’ve been dubbed — gained after trailing with barely greater than two minutes left in Game 4, scored 5 unanswered in Game 5 after being down 3-0 and stole one other one from the Capitals in Game 6.  Florida posted the most effective regular-season document, however few anticipated the Capitals to lose fairly like this. 

“We had a lot of time where the series was in our hands,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson stated. “And I think that stings even more, especially right now.”

Tough choices will possible must be made. What ought to the Capitals, as an example, do at goaltender? Washington alternated between Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek over the course of the common season, however neither was outright dominant within the playoffs. Samsonov carried out higher of the 2, although his contract is up. Both goalies are set to be restricted free brokers, however can Washington discover an improve? 

General supervisor Brian MacLellan will even possible have to find out if Washington’s core is value shaking up — or no less than, tweaking. According to Cap Friendly, the Capitals are projected to have virtually $9 million in salary-cap house this upcoming offseason. The crew has six gamers from their playoff roster with no less than three extra years on their contract in Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Oshie, Nic Dowd and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Only Kuznetsov is youthful than 30, however that adjustments in a matter of days (his thirtieth birthday is May 19).

Making issues more durable to judge, Washington’s core performed comparatively properly when simply taking a look at particular person stats. Sure, Ovechkin solely had one purpose within the collection — not nice given his 50 within the common season — however he was lively with 5 assists and 30 hits. Oshie led the Capitals with six objectives. Backstrom (six factors) and Kuznetsov (5 factors) discovered methods to contribute, too. 

But this might very properly be a turning level for the Capitals. This was a kind of collection defeat that Washington’s brass can’t simply blame on the absence of winger Tom Wilson, who missed the final 5 video games on account of harm. Washington was capable of push the Presidents’ Trophy winner, however nonetheless didn’t get the job finished.

“We have it, but we just blow it away,” Ovechkin stated. “It is on us. It is on me, on Backy, on Osh, on Carly. It is on everybody.”

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