In the 35 year existence of the Washington Capitals franchise this is no doubt the hardest post season defeat to swallow in team history. The 2009-10 Caps set club records for points with 121 (54-15-13) and won the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time, however, an inability to put the Montreal Canadiens away after they took a 3-1 series lead will haunt them all summer. Jaroslav Halak, who nearly carried Team Slovakia to a medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, delivered an all wordly goaltending performance and carried his team to the second round. Halak stopped 41 of 42 shots on Wednesday night in a 2-1 victory and 131 of 134 in the last three games. The Canadiens advance to play Pittsburgh while Washington will have time to analyze and regroup for 2010-11.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the last tilt this season for Washington:
After crediting Halak, the Caps can put the blame for losing this series on two things: their inability to come out and win the first period in any game in the series and their anemic power play, which went 1 for 33 after being ranked number one in the league all season. Boudreau made some changes to the power play again tonight moving Ovechkin down low and putting Joe Corvo on the point with Mike Green on the first unit but they still could not solve Halak. The 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner mentioned in the post game that they put the Great #8 in four different positions with the man advantage to no avail. Montreal forward Mike Cammalleri credited the success of his team on the changes his coaching staff made on a game to game basis.
“I thought there was a real commitment to detail from our penalty killers. [Assistant Coach] Kirk Muller did a heck of a job adapting and making adjustments as the series went on,” said the Montreal forward, who had five goals and five assists in the series.
The Canadiens also blocked an astounding 41 shots in this contest and sacrificed their body all series to thwart Washington attempts. The Montreal players deserve a lot of credit but the Caps were a little reluctant, at times, to dump the puck deep when the shooting lanes were clogged.
Outside of the opening stanzas in this series, the Caps dominated the play but the smaller but very fast Montreal players always seemed to take advantage of any space Washington gave them. Tonight they scored on a 4 on 3 power play with 30 seconds left in the first period that came as a result of a bad Green penalty in the offensive zone. Then with the Caps pressing late to tie it up, the puck banked out of the offensive zone over a pinching defenseman John Carlson and Green was not able to stop Dominic Moore from going in alone on Semyon Varlamov (14 saves) to score with 3:36 remaining.
“Jaro played a way that you just can’t lose. We would rather not play as much of a hang on style as we did tonight and last game but maybe it was the result of having so much confidence in him. We have the capability of making plays off the rush and in the half court offense as well. We think we have a little more capability of taking the play then we did tonight or last game. We have to work on that, a litte bit,” added Cammalleri on his team’s play, who came over from Calgary as a free agent last summer.
Washington did appear to tie the game at one early in the third period on an Ovechkin goal but Mike Knuble was called for being in the crease. The call looked borderline but given the fact that Montreal constantly complained to the supervisor of officials, Kevin Collins, throughout the series, it likely aided their cause.
“That’s a violation that hasn’t been called all year. I felt all night that I wasn’t a crease presence, as far as being in the blue paint. I was right on the edge where I should be, and we talked about it, the referee and I. I haven’t seen the replay yet, but that is something weird. You haven’t seen it all year and now it comes out in game 7,” said Knuble on the disallowed goal.
At the end of the series, team captain Ovechkin will take a lot of heat for not being able to lead his team past the eighth seed despite having five goals and five assists in the seven games. The Great #8 was clearly down following a third game seven loss in four tries.
“I think we are all disappointed. We all know we have a pretty good team, but we didn’t win when we have to win. I don’t know. I think we have everything. We just lose a a game. Honestly, I don’t know what to say right now,” said Ovechkin.
Ovechkin deserves some criticism but there is plenty of blame to go around. Alexander Semin, who scored 40 goals in the regular season, had a big fat donut hole in the series and only notched two assists. He did not compete at all in the first four contests and he was consistently soft in high traffic areas for much of the series. #28 has a one year deal for $6M in 2010-11 but I would have to imagine GM George McPhee is going to examine whether he fits in long term and if it is determined he does not, the GM will likely move him around draft time to get something in return for the inconsistent winger. Clearly Semin and anyone else put with him on the second line were a major reason for the defeat because they could not take the heat off of Nicklas Backstrom (5 goals, 4 assists), Ovechkin, and Knuble (2 goals, 4 assists).
The Caps are an offensive team, and anyone who questions their aggressive system may think they are correct, but the bottom line was there was a lack of secondary scoring to go with a power play that struggled mightily in these playoffs. They did not lose because of poor defense or their style of play. They simply could not bury their chances and when guys like Semin and Tomas Fleischmann (23 goals in 69 games), who scored in the regular season, do not light the lamp then the playing field becomes more even with a team that scored far fewer goals than Washington in 2009-10.
In addition, Green will have the finger pointed at him despite being healthy in this post season, unlike last year when he battled a virus and a shoulder injury. #52 did not deliver offensively notching only three assists and he was just +1 overall. It was clearly the wrong time for Green to have a tailspin.
I’ll have more on the playoff defeat and what the future may hold for the Caps over the next several days. There will be changes, but that happens with every team and with the salary cap there is no getting around it.
“Well I have never seen a team stay the same 100 percent. You have free agents, so I doubt it’s going to be 100 percent the same. Nicky [Backstrom] was probably alluding to the fact that this is probably the last game that this group is going to be together,” finished Boudreau.
Finally, there will be lots of disappointment about this defeat, no doubt, but fans need to remember this is still a very young team. Carlson (20) and Karl Alzner (21), who are both eligible to return to Hershey for the AHL playoffs starting tomorrow, have promising futures and both should be in the NHL full time next season for the Caps. In addition, Varlamov just turned 22 plus goalies Michal Neuvirth (22) and Braden Holty (20) are doing well in the system. Ovechkin won’t turn 25 until September and Backstrom is only 22, so any talk of Stanley Cup windows closing for this team are simply ludicrous.