When you’ve been a fan of the Washington Capitals like I’ve been since 1974, NOTHING surprises you when it has to do with the Capitals figuring out a way to lose.
So when the clock hit 00:00 tonight at the Verizon Center and the Caps were on the short end of a 2-1 final to the Montreal Canadiens, I simply shrugged my shoulders and said, “Yeah, that’s about how I figured it would go.”
Let’s pull back the curtain a second and offer some harsh-but-needed analysis.
The Caps and their vaunted, sexy, high-powered offense collected exactly THREE goals in the final three games of the series. And they lost all three.
If you score 3 goals in 3 games in the playoffs, you deserve to lose.
Truth? OK, I’ll provide it.
Alex Ovechkin was a shadow of his regular season self. Frustrated throughout the 7 games by a stifling Montreal defense, he was manhandled by Habs defenseman Hal Gill. He might have scored five goals, but when the series was on the line and a win would have put his team through and sent the Canadiens home, the fact of the matter is Ovie failed to deliver. Period. After a spectacular 2nd game at home in which he scored the game-winning goal in overtime, Nicklas Backstrom strolled throughout the final three games. And Alex Semin didn’t even build up to stroll-level. If sleepwalking is a crime, someone needs to fill out the paperwork and put Semin in front of a judge.
Montreal deserved to win because when the series was do-or-die, they did. Their goaltender was great, their defense was dedicated to stopping the Caps and when they needed a goal – usually on the power play – they figured out a way to get one. In the last three games, Washington sputtered and the Canadiens sparked.
The Habs didn’t get a lot of style points, but they’re playing hockey next week and the Caps are playing golf.
Oddly enough, the final result of this series can easily be found in the pedigree of both franchises.
Washington has one Stanley Cup Final appearance (’98) and nothing to show for three straight seasons of winning the Southeast Division. As much as it pains me to say it, the Caps have losing in their DNA.
Montreal, on the other hand, expects to win, even when they’re the 8th seed and didn’t capture a playoff spot until the regular season’s final 48 hours.
They expect to win because that’s what they’ve done forever.
The Caps…well, they sorta-kinda expect to lose because that’s what they’ve done since 1974.
And when the chips were down in this series, all of those regular season wins and goals and blow-outs weren’t enough to overcome the one thing Montreal brought to the table that the Caps didn’t: Heart.
Bruce Boudreau tried to say all the right things afterwards on Wednesday night. “I know our guys gave everything they had. I’m sure every guy in that locker room is hurting deeply. I thought we played as well as we could.”
But the truth is, Boudreau has to be privately wondering if his top players…Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin, are simply GREAT regular season performers who don’t have the intestinal fortitude to ramp it up in the post-season.
And Mike Green, his top defensive performer, looked lost throughout most of the series, including a dreadful Game 7 performance that could be his final act in red.
When your four best players get neutralized, you lose.
There’s no magic formula there.
In the playoffs, your best players have to play well and contribute.
In this case, the Caps best four got outplayed by the best four from Montreal.
And the season is over.
Way too soon.