Capitals face questions after exiting the first round for the fourth time in a row

The Capitals took a few moments to gather themselves before they swung on the ice in front of the silent Capital One Arena and amidst a group of happy Florida Panthers.

Some greeted the goalkeeper with condolences, some looked at the scoreboard for the last time, others remained glued to the bench. Even as the years go by, ending the season losing always leaves the same hollow feeling. Scenes are not much different.

But it was a sight that had already become all too familiar to the capitals over the past few seasons, as their 4-3 overtime loss in Game 6 on Friday wiped them out of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. .

Now, as will happen in every season over the next few years, questions will arise about whether or not the Capitals can add a second Stanley Cup banner to the rafters at Capital One Arena.

“If you’ve been there before, you know what it takes,” said Niklas Backstrom. “To answer your question, yes, I think so. But the margins are obviously very small there. It doesn’t take much to make mistakes there. I think this is just a general sport.”

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The series’ loss was hard to swallow, as the Capitals blew up a lead in the last three games of the series as their season ended sadly on the home ice.

By the way, the series played, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the veteran capitals roamed through the first round and beat the Presidents Cup winners in five or six matches.

“Well, I think you see how we played against the best team in the regular season,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We have, but we blow it up. It’s on us. It’s Ali, in Backy, in [T.J. Oshie]employment [John Carlson]. It is on everyone. Some kind of attitude (expletive).

It was a frank, frank talk from a player who went through years of heartache before finally winning the cup in 2018. There was hope for another player. But the metropolitan stars are almost 30 years old or older now and little by little that is becoming more of a story. When this off-season starts in earnest, it’s going to be an intense focus for the front office.

However, four of the capitals center’s most senior members (TJ Oshie, Ovechkin, John Carlson and Backstrom) were veterans and top scorers in the post-season. O’Shea scored six goals in six games, including what was at the time a season-saving goal with 63 seconds left in Game Six. Backstrom and Ovechkin scored a point in each match, and Carlson tied Evgeny Kuznetsov by five.

Game 6 nights, however, were 35, 36, 32 and 34 years old, respectively, Oshie, Ovechkin, Carlson, and Backstrom. Even Kuznetsov, the star of the team that was among the second wave of young talent in the capitals in the early 2000s, will turn 30 in a few days.

Tom Wilson scored a goal in the first game and then missed the rest of the injured series. Still only 28, and striker Anthony Mantha, 27, but there is a huge gap between them and Washington’s best younger players such as forward Conor McMichael, 21, and defender Martin Vervari, 22, and his best minor league prospects. and juniors.

Five of the top six defenders on the team (Carlson, Justin Schulz, Dimitri Orloff, Nick Jensen and Trevor van Rimsdijk) are aged 30 or over. And Schultz is her most prominent suspended free agent.

Meanwhile, the four series’ losses since Washington lifted the trophy in 2018 have come in different ways, and for different teams. They lost in double overtime at home to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 in 2019. They then lost to the New York Islanders in five quick games in the NHL’s COVID-19 bubble in Toronto in the summer of 2020.

They followed last year with a five-game defeat as the injury-paralyzed team couldn’t keep up with the Boston Bruins. Then this season, the hats fell to the six-game Presidents Cup winners as they felt like they were in control of different parts of the series. They easily made it to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this year, 16 points ahead of the Islanders.

But since they were the lowest seed, they also faced a great challenge. The worry is if their game falters, if injuries falter, and if young teams jump behind them, Washington won’t be in the Stanley Cup playoffs at all.

“I think it was different,” O’Shea said. “The last three games, the game has been in our hands, and that’s about finding a way to get the job done in the other games. The last two years we’ve been at a loss, teams have worked their way up to us a little bit. I don’t think the all-in aspect has been quite there in the last two years. This year, I think we were very close to being 100% on board, and we let three games slip away.”

But here’s the tricky part for the Capitals to grapple with as the season comes to a close: They played well against the team’s best regular season team and had a few moments as it looked like they were on their way to the second round.

Instead, another year went by with a heartbreaking first-round loss in the post-season. Ovechkin will be 37 next year. Backstrom’s chronic hip problem was limited to 47 games. O’Shea played at only 44. Chances are diminished after every opportunity was missed.

“In qualifying, the margin of error is very small,” O’Shea said. “A bad bounce or one reading mistake can change the whole momentum of the game. And suddenly, thinking you’re going to their fold 3-1, [but] 2-2. It reaches 3-0, loses 5-3. Now come here, up 2-1 – I think it was under 10 minutes – and then all of a sudden we dropped one in the last few minutes. Things happen quickly, and we didn’t lock the door. There’s really no other way to put it.”

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