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Referees play no role in Capitals' Game 7 breakdown

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,John Keim

It wasn't about power plays. It wasn't about missed calls. In the end, it was all about blown chances and missed opportunities.

Besides, the Capitals didn't have to spend time killing power plays Monday night in their 5-0 Game 7 first-round loss to the New York Rangers. Rather, they spent more time killing their chances to advance further.

After endless discussion about the discrepancy in penalties between the Rangers and the Caps, the seventh game was largely penalty-free. And the one team that received a power play in the first two periods, when the game was within reach, was Washington.

Before the Caps received their first of two power plays, any perceived close call that wasn't called a penalty was greeted with loud boos by the 18,000-plus referees in the stands wearing red. New York's Ryan Callahan drove into Jason Chimera near the net after a shot by John Carlson. No call. But with 1:18 left in the first period, New York's Arron Asham checked Matt Hendricks into the boards, with Hendricks' face hitting the glass.

Alas, the Caps managed just one shot from the wing by Mike Ribeiro.

Still, the lack of penalties was quite a change from the first six games and the previous four in particular. The Rangers held a 19-7 edge in power plays in Games 3-6 and 26-14 for the series.

But Game 7s typically come down to performances by the players, not the referees. And the Rangers performed better. No sequence was more damaging than one with about 14 minutes elapsed in the first period. Rookie Tom Wilson, crashing the net, had the puck bounce over his stick.

The missed opportunity led to a Rangers breakaway -- and a goal by Asham. What could have been a 1-0 Capitals lead turned into a deficit, one that proved too large to overcome.

It was a goalie in Braden Holtby not having his best game. It was Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist being, well, Henrik Lundqvist. It was Alex Ovechkin, who had some crushing checks, still not finding the net -- or helping anyone else find it, for that matter. It was Marcus Johansson failing to knock in a rebound late in the first period. The Rangers had no such problems.

Perhaps no goal summed up the night more than Callahan's score to open the third period. The Caps faced long odds anyway trying to overcome a 3-0 deficit. But John Erskine's sloppy pass at the blue line was intercepted by Callahan, who drove in on Holtby for an easy goal.

Later in the period, the Caps were whistled for their first penalty. And they earned another power play. By then nobody was discussing the referees or their calls. Turns out Monday was about everything but penalties.

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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