The scene is all too familiar now. The long and tortured Stanley Cup playoff history of the Capitals means little to the current generation of players. None of them were born or raised here, after all.
But the stinging defeats of recent years are taking an obvious toll. In the Alex Ovechkin era, Washington has made the playoff six years in a row. They have advanced to the second round three times. They have been eliminated in the first round three times, including 5-0 Monday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Rangers.
“We were in the series right now. That’s where it’s disappointing,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “But it feels like déjà vu.”
Frustration, anger, hurt, confusion…it was all on display yet again in another somber postgame scene in the home locker room. What was left was a team coming to grips with the notion that time is passing swiftly. Chances to compete for a Stanley Cup are fleeting. Does doubt start to creep in?
“A little bit. I don’t know if that’s the right mentality. I’m sure it’s not the right mentality,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “But we all play this game to win and when you see one year after another year disappointments…[Former Caps forward] Mike Knuble would tell us that you blink and the next thing you know you’re in your last couple of years and you haven’t made it to the finals even. You don’t want to see the time tick away. You want to at least get a taste of it before you’re done.”
Mike Green, Alzner’s defense partner, has been here for every excruciating playoff loss dating to 2008. The overtime goal at home against Philadelphia in Game 7. The crushing 6-2 defeat at home in Game 7 against Pittsburgh (2009) and the one that topped them all – Game 7 against Montreal (2010). There was the Tampa Bay loss where a hot team ran into another buzzsaw. And, of course, last year’s 2-1 Game heartbreaker in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. Now this – a 5-0 Game 7 drubbing that brought back memories of the Pittsburgh loss.
“There’s no point in talking about [the past],” forward Eric Fehr said. “We’re living right now and we lost. That’s it.”
Green was asked during his postgame scrum with reporters if Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was the difference in the series. He gave appropriate credit, lamented how the Caps got away from their game plan on scoring against him…and then sputtered. Green looked away and shook his head. There were no answers to be found.
“This is the best team that we’ve been on,” Green said. “We had the depth, we had the coaching, the structure, the system. Things that happen during series that just seem for whatever reason at the wrong time happen to us. That’s no reflection of the guys in the dressing room or how bad we wanted it. The heart and the depth of the guys throughout the lineup is not the reflection of how it should end.”
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