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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The Washington Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0 at the Verizon Center on Early Stanley Cup Playoff Exit Heritage Night.


This Game 7 loss at home to Pittsburgh played out differently than the last one at the Verizon Center in 2009, when the Capitals were down 2-0 in the first five minutes of the game they went on to lose 6-2.


AUDIO: Writer John Schulian with Thom Loverro


No, this time they waited until the third period to be down 2-0, and the result was the same.

The result is always the same.

The Capitals are now 4-11 in game 7s over their long and painful history — 0-4 against the Penguins. They are 3-7 in the Alex Ovechkin-era in game 7s.

Washington hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since 1998.

“That’s right, woodchuckers — it’s Groundhog Day.”

The Alex Ovechkin Capitals failed to make it past the Eastern Conference semifinals for the seventh time. It is the Alex Ovechkin Capitals, and everything that comes with that — the failures, the questions, fair or not.

When asked in the locker room if he believed his Capitals would ever make it past this point in the playoffs, Ovechkin had no answer.

There may be no simple answer, but there are many, many questions — and Ovechkin wasn’t the only one without an answer.

His coach, Barry Trotz, was asked in the post-game press conference why Ovechkin has not been able to get his team over the hump. “Emotionally, I don’t want to answer that question.”

The Capitals had fought back from a 3-1 deficit to even the series against the Penguins 3-3. And the way both teams looked in Game 6 in Pittsburgh Monday night — the Capitals a dominant group and the Penguins a battered team — there was hope Washington could complete the series comeback with a victory Wednesday night.

And the way they opened the game, attacking Pittsburgh goalie Marc Andre Fleury with one shot after another, it appeared the Capitals actually might finally take that step to the next round. But Fleury stopped everything Washington hit him with — 29 saves — and, when Bryan Rust scored the first goal of the game in at 8:49 of the second period, that would be all the Penguins would need.

They added the second goal at 4:14 of the third period when Patric Hornqvist scored on a turnover by Ovechkin for the 2-0 lead — and the win.

Alex Ovechkin. No matter how impressive his post season statistics are, he has the weight of failure on his shoulders.

His rival, Sidney Crosby? Just the opposite, as the Penguins may be on their way to their third Stanley Cup in the Crosby era.

“This guy has the ability to raise the level of his gamer when the stakes are the highest,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said about Crosby.

No one describes Ovechkin, who was taken off the first scoring line during the series by Trotz and moved to the third line, that way.

No one ever describes the Capitals that way.

“When you get into a Game 7, it’s about compete level,” Sullivan said, using that catch phrase he has hammered home all series. “It’s about heart and soul.”

No one ever talks about the Capitals in those terms.

Goalie Braden Holtby, who stopped 28 shots, certainly didn’t in the Capitals locker room after the game. He said “compared to games 5 and 6, it wasn’t the same team out there. It wasn’t our best effort.”

Heart and soul.

“That was the closest thing to Penguins identity that we’ve seen in the playoffs,” Sullivan said of his team.

Unfortunately, it was also the closest thing we’ve seen to the Capitals identity as well.

•Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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