Another year and still no answers for Capitals

|
Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Players can't explain latest loss in playoffs

Some came to the podium one at a time, others stood off to the side attempting to answer the question that still puzzles them: Why can't the Capitals win in the Stanley Cup playoffs?

For the sixth time in as many seasons Washington failed to advance past the second round. For the third time during that stretch, they fell in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals -- this time in seven games to the New York Rangers on Monday night after an embarrassing 5-0 loss at Verizon Center.

And so the Caps said goodbye to another season Wednesday at their annual breakdown day. Equipment was packed, exit meetings with management conducted and goodbyes said. Some players will stick around for a few weeks getting treatment for injuries or waiting for their children's school year to end. Others, like star winger Alex Ovechkin, are already gone. He is in Finland playing in the World Championships for Russia. But no matter where they end up scattered across the world this summer, the players will wonder once more what went wrong and search for an adequate answer.

"You have to take the emotion out of it and try to be analytical," Washington general manager George McPhee said. "It's hard, because you know going into a Game 7 this could be it. But you're really hoping you're playing the next day. When it's over, there's quite a vacuum there. It ends and it crushes all of us."

Added defenseman Mike Green, "If you're asking me if there's one specific thing, I don't know. Does anybody know? Do you know? Bounces are one of them, and there are several things, but it's just unfortunate the position that we're in."

There were injuries, of course. Martin Erat said he dislocated his left elbow in Game 4 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Brooks Laich had minor groin surgery in April. He appeared in just nine games this season after being injured in Switzerland while playing during the NHL lockout. McPhee said both players were set to return during the second round if they had made it.

Caps officials and players remain steamed about the refereeing in the playoff series with New York. The Rangers finished the series with 28 power plays to Washington's 16, including none in a pivotal Game 6 defeat. After Monday's season-ending loss, Ovechkin insinuated to Russian reporters that the NHL wanted the series to continue through to a Game 7.

"I don't think there's a league conspiracy, but it sure didn't feel right," McPhee said. "And Alex wasn't wrong [about the poor officiating]."

But in the end, the Caps were still ahead 2-0 and 3-2 in the series with two chances to advance and failed to do so. They took too many retaliatory penalties in Game 6. It all added up to another bitter loss. And while McPhee insisted he likes his roster as constructed, there will be some changes this summer.

Forwards Mike Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks are unrestricted free agents and the team needs to re-sign restricted free agent defenseman Karl Alzner and forward Marcus Johansson. But no matter who returns, at least one thing must change if Washington makes it back to the playoffs in 2013-14.

"We've just got to find a way to close out series, I think," forward Eric Fehr said. "That's been something we've struggled with throughout the last couple years is we've always gone to seven games and we need to find a way to keep it from going seven and find a way to win them. I'm not sure what we get out of this here, but we just need to find a way to do that."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment