Blog Entry

Caps can't win when it counts

Posted on: April 28, 2010 11:12 pm

They kept coming and coming and coming. Firing shots from every possible angle and beating the Montreal Canadiens to pucks along the walls, behind the net and at both ends of the ice.

They were frantic and focused, at once showing signs of pure desperation and utter urgency. And if the Washington Capitals had managed to do that any earlier in this Eastern Conference quarterfinals series for the ages, they would be moving on instead of going home after just seven playoff games. But for the most part, the Caps played this series like they didn’t believe they could lose, ratcheting things up only when their backs were against the wall and when it was simply too late.

This 2-1 loss in the series finale wasn’t the way it was supposed to go down for the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Not after they wrapped up a playoff spot by New Year’s, not after they claimed a division title soon after and certainly not after displaying an offense so explosive, it was often compared to those great Wayne Gretzky-, Mark Messier-led Edmonton Oilers  of the early 1980s.

Truth is everything was in place for this team to emulate that one, except for the one major difference that ultimately become too big to overcome. Those Oilers knew what it takes to win at playoff time. These Capitals don’t. And judging by the disillusioning way they’ve fallen so short in the last three seasons, they may never learn. Not when they found a way to collapse in the most humiliating way possible.

“We all know we have a pretty good team, but we didn’t win when we have to win,” said Washington captain Alex Ovechkin.

It wasn’t the first time either. Remember last spring when they forced the Pittsburgh Penguins back to Washington for a Game 7 and came unglued? This time might have been worse.

Think about it. Washington now has the dubious distinction of being the first top seed to lose to an eighth seed after leading a series 3-1. Three of the losses came at home where the Caps had the league’s best record yet managed to hold leads for less than seven minutes all told. And against a team that effectively backed its way into the playoffs and spent much of the series in survival mode.

If that weren’t enough, consider that the big concern Washington had coming into this post season – goaltending – actually turned out to be the best part of its game. Instead, biggest problem turned out their inability to score both at even strength, and more disconcerting on their league-best power play which connected only once on 33 tries in the series.

The Capitals flashed their skills to be sure. The gained access repeatedly into Montreal’s zone, generated chances and managed an overwhelming number of shots both in the clincher and throughout the series. But in the end they succumbed to a problem that must have reminded Ovechkin of his demoralizing and frustrating experience at the recent Olympics.

Ovechkin’s Russians were picked by many to win that tournament as well, but didn’t even medal because their remarkably talented lineup, according to no less an authority than hockey legend Igor Larionov, turned out to be a collection of individuals instead of a team. Just like the Capitals and very much unlike the Canadiens.

Montreal was stunning in this series, in no small part because of the lights-out play by Jaroslav Halak. He didn’t get much offense to work with – in the finale the Canadiens managed only one goal by Marc-Andre Bergeron until Dominic Moore provided a bit of a cushion late in the third period, but Montreal kept moving as a five-man unit, chipping pucks into spots that made sense and keeping mistakes and turnovers to a minumum.  Still the 24-year-old netminder, a backup until midseason, channeled the spirits of great Montreal playoff goalies like Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy and Jacques Plante as he led the Canadiens back from the brink.

Halak faced 134 shots over the final three games, allowing only three goals and clearly got into the heads of the Washington shooters. When he didn’t, team in front of him got in the way of their shots, blocking a sick total of 41 in the deciding game.

“They have a lot of good shooters and can change the game with one shot, so you kind of try to be on everything,” said Montreal defenseman Hal Gill, who partnered with Josh Georges to form a superb shutdown unit throughout the series.

Maybe it would have helped had Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau not been so badly outcoached by Montreal counterpart Jacques Martin, especially in Game 7 when he had the last line change being at home. But Boudreau couldn’t find ways of getting Ovechkin away from the Gill-Georges tandem, and he couldn’t impress upon his team the need to avoid their east-west tendencies in favor of heading north south. Martin made adjustments as the series went on, shortened his bench when necessary and came up with a Game 7 win for the first time in his career.

Boudreau, meanwhile lost a seventh game for the third time in four tries, and will face questions about his future and that of a roster that seems built for regular season success rather than in the playoffs. And he knows it.

“We all feel pretty low,” Boudreau said when it was over. “I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup and I would have bet my house they won’t beat us three in a row or that we would we would have have scored only three goals in like 140 shots.

“They played a perfect game and I thought we played a perfect game for the most part too, but sometimes you just don’t score goals. Give Montreal credit.”

And the ticket Washington should have had to the next round.


Category: NHL

Since: Jan 19, 2010
Posted on: May 6, 2010 11:34 pm

Can't compare OV and Crosby

OV had a great series just zero help.. he did all he could.  Some of the other Capitals should be ashamed of their performance.  #8 couldn't have tried any harder.

And this isn't one of the biggest upsets ever.  Fact is, in  the old days some really horrible, AWFUL teams made the playoffs and would win series.. these days every team has 90 points and is pretty solid.  Even Les Habs.

Since: Aug 18, 2009
Posted on: April 29, 2010 4:55 pm

Caps can't win when it counts

Crosby is the biggest whining, pansie a-$$-ed worm of a player in the history of the NHL! ZETTERBERG OWNS Cindy BTW!!! Wouldn't that mean that Zetterberg is a better player?

Yes it does!

Since: Apr 25, 2009
Posted on: April 29, 2010 4:46 pm

Caps can't win when it counts

Laugh it up funny boy, but there's a pain train com'in, whaoaa whaooaaaa!!!, and it's RED, with a winged wheel on it, and ain't noth'in slowing it down.

Not even Cindy!

Since: Dec 16, 2009
Posted on: April 29, 2010 4:10 pm

Caps can't win when it counts

This argument continues. ovechkin better or Sid the Kid (Crosby) I will have to say Crosby, he elevates the play of his teammates. You claim he can not hold Ovechkin Jok strap. He holds that Stanley Cup pretty well, Something O has yet to accomplish. 1 for Sid. It does not matter what you do in the regular season. You manages to get the number 1 seed. Let me translate it for you. 1st one in and 1st one out. The Caps played lights out in the regular season, took a 3-1 lead and started skating on thin ice. Thinking a team was going to roll over, because of what they did prior to the playoffs. You don't win on reputation, you have to play the game. Oh! well enjoy watching the Penguins. They might lose in the next round. But they will not relinquish a 3-1 lead. GOoooooooooo PENS!

Since: Aug 31, 2006
Posted on: April 29, 2010 2:26 pm

Caps can't win when it counts

Love the #8 reference....  OV is a great individual player looking for great individual stats.  He should win the Hart trophy again because he deserves it.  He loves stats and being in the limelight (example 1A, goal scoring celebrations)....and he would have crushed Crosby and Sedin for the scoring title this year if he would have played more games.  But that is where it ends...see my post earlier about the lack of leadership that he displays.  He works hard during the game, but outside the bright lights when nobody is watching, he is a no-show and should not wear an A, let alone a C.  OV - Enjoy the nice weather in DC, and go work on the handicap stat....

Since: Apr 10, 2007
Posted on: April 29, 2010 2:04 pm

Caps can't win when it counts

How did OV NOT choke?  He's the team captain and his team (the self-proclaimed best team in hockey) blew a 3-1 lead - something that had never been done in the history of the NHL by the 1 seed against an 8.

The only thing OV does better than Sid is dance around like a d-bag when he scores.  Seriously, the comparison ends there. 

Well, then there's the fact that Sid wins.  He wins at an individual level (Hart, Art Ross, etc) and he wins at a team level (Stanley Cup, Olympic gold).  Say whatever you want about OV, but every team he goes near collapses.  In his 5 years with the Capitals, they have won only 1 playoff series ever.  Sid has won 8 series in that same span of time.  And it's not like OV doesn't play with great players.  They have won their division the last 3 years in a row.  So now that there are five years worth of history, why do you suppose OV can't ever win when it matters?

For those of you who defend OV by saying he had 10 points in the series - consider this.  8 of those 10 points were scored in games 2-4.  With his team leading the series 3 games to 1, OV managed a grand total of 1 goal and 1 assist in games 5-7 - any of which would have clinched a series win for Washington.  And before you use the old "we ran into a great goaltender" excuse - think back to Game 1.  It was in DC and OV had 0 points and 0 shots on goal.  This series was lost in Game 1, not Game 7.

Now that I think about it, it's kind of fitting that OV wears #8.  It will remind us all forever of the year that OV choked against the 8-seed.

Since: Feb 3, 2008
Posted on: April 29, 2010 1:51 pm

Caps can't win when it counts


Since: Jan 12, 2007
Posted on: April 29, 2010 1:18 pm

Focus on hockey

Thank you, lnation, for reminding me that there are knowledgeable and respectful hockey fans who still happen to root for the Penguins without immature, homer comments posted on a message board about a game in which their team didn't even take part.
Need we remind Penguins fans of the empty, listless Igloo of just a few seasons ago?  Like 2005-06 even though that was Sidney Crosby's rookie year?  2003-04 was even worse because there was no Crosby and Lemieux only played 10 games.  I've been there a couple times when it was easy to get tickets, way less than 10,000 fans in the seats who were barely awake, and the team was terrible.  The only thing intimidating about being there was the worry that the thing was going to collapse with me sitting inside it.  And the Verizon Center was just like that too for many games I've attended.  I don't think there's anywhere I've felt intimidated not rooting for the home team, and that includes Philadelphia and New York where people will be louder.  As far as feeling the atmosphere of fans enthusiastically supporting the team and being knowledgeable about the sport, in my experience the clear winners are the Buffalo Sabres fans (to be fair I haven't been out west too much).
Its all cyclical.  Stars put butts in seats and bring casual fans out of the woodwork.  It happened in DC before Alex Ovechkin, it happened in Pittsburgh before Crosby when Mario was not there (and before Mario was there too).  When the team stinks and there's no one playing for them worth noting, people don't bother going to games.  For a current example you guys in Pittsburgh need only look down the way at that beautful baseball stadium.

As for the second round, the Flyers are clear underdogs given their injuries and the Penguins are going to learn very quickly what happened to the Capitals if Jaroslav Halak continues to play out of his mind like that.

Since: Feb 16, 2009
Posted on: April 29, 2010 1:01 pm

Caps can't win when it counts

Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi didn't show up til play off time last year.  The Penguins had a shakey defense going into the playoffs last year too.  Regular season doesn't mean a thing if you make it to the playoffs.  All bets are off and everyone has a shot.  It's just a question on who steps up, and my guess is that it will be the Pens, and their D.

Since: Apr 23, 2010
Posted on: April 29, 2010 12:55 pm

Caps can't win when it counts

There sure are a lot of bitter and over-confident fans on this board. For one, I am very surprised about the outcome with the Caps-Habs series. I don't think anyone saw this upset coming. Any time Ovechkin touches the puck, you know something incredible is going to happen. He's just so good but he can't win the Cup by himself. I will admit to being guilty of rooting for the Caps to fail but that's only because I know how dangerous the Caps can be.

The Penguins have a lot of work to do if they think they're going to roll over the Habs this round. I'm betting on the Flyers to defeat Boston and I would love to see a Pens-Flyers final. It would be an intense series because the Flyers might be a little upset that they've been bested by the Pens for the past two years in the post-season.

To my fellow Pens fans: Grow up. I love our team and will defend them until the end but I can't defend your hubris. We've got a lot of cracks in our game that will need a good patching if we think that we're going to beat the Habs. Go Pens!

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