The Washington Capitals were incredibly inconsistent and had mediocre goaltenders during the regular season while the Panthers set a salary cap record for most goals in a season (340) and won the Presidents’ Trophy. Both teams’ first-round series looked unlikely to be competitive. Instead, the eighth-seeded Capitals pushed the Atlantic Division champions to the brink.
The Capitals physically played against the Panthers and engaged in a stifling defensive game. “We can play offensive hockey in the beer league in the summer, right? observed Evgeny Kuznetsov during the series. The Capitals especially got a fantastic goalie from Ilya Samsonov in five games played.
The Capitals managed to take a 2-1 series lead in Game 3, but they failed to finish it. Despite leading the next three games, the Capitals lost games four, five and six and were seeded in the first round for the fourth straight season.
The Caps haven’t won a playoff since 2018, when they won their only Stanley Cup in franchise history. After falling to the Panthers 4-3 in overtime, uncomfortable questions have been posed to the team’s leadership group, including whether its aging core is capable of winning another championship. Alex Ovechkin is 36, TJ Oshie is 35, Nicklas Backstrom is 34 and has just recovered from a hip injury that sidelined him for the first few months of the season, and John Carlson is 32 years. ‘ goal (four) which was scored in the decisive sixth game.
“Well, I think you can see how we play against the best team in the regular season,” Ovechkin said. “We have it, we just blew it. It’s on us. It’s on me, it’s on Backy, it’s on Osh, it’s on Carly, it’s on everyone. It’s kind of a shitty situation.
“The last three games were in our hands,” added TJ Oshie. “It comes down to finding a way to get the job done. The last two years we’ve been down and the teams have had their way with us. I don’t think the all-in aspect was quite there in the last two years. This year, I think we were very close to being 100% everyone on board. And we let three games slip away from us. In the playoffs, the margin for error is so small. A bad rebound or a missed read can change the whole momentum of a game and all of a sudden – thinking you’re going to barn them up 3-1, it’s 2-2; up 3-0, lose 5-3; now come here up to 2-1, and I think it was maybe less than 10 minutes, and then all of a sudden we’re a minute behind in the last two minutes. Things happen quickly. We just haven’t closed the door. There is no other way to say it.
After lifting Lord Stanley’s chalice, the Capitals couldn’t repeat themselves as champions in 2019, losing in seven games to the dead-forechecked Carolina Hurricanes. During the 2020 Bubble Loffs, which was a very strange time in our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Capitals ran into former head coach Barry Trotz and never seemed to find their game, losing in five games. There were rumblings from players not taking the experience seriously. Todd Reirden was fired and Peter Laviolette came on the scene. Not much changed. In 2021, the Capitals were again eliminated in five games, but this time by the Boston Bruins. That year, the Capitals had injury issues with their top stars.
2022 seemed unlikely to be any different, but it was. Against the Florida Panthers, the Capitals were outshot in the five-to-five series 56% to 44%, but the Capitals kept most of that offense on the outside. The Capitals, incredibly, managed to have more high-risk chances overall in the series, 60-57. The Capitals lost in the expected goals stat, but narrowly: 12.54-13.32 . The Capitals also allowed no power play goals to Florida during the series (0-18). Florida was the only first-round team not to score a PPG.
“Their offense is very good,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “It doesn’t take much to get them going. When they score a goal, they ignite and then they start rolling. Just by watching this series, we basically gave them away.
Game six was the only game the Capitals outscored the Panthers five-for-five (51.4% to 48.6%), but two questionable goals given up by Samsonov prompted the Capitals to continue the game.
“We played against a team that turned out to be the best team in the league,” said Peter Laviolette. “I played them hard and the games could have gone either way. They just didn’t go our way. I think that’s the part you need to let sit in your stomach for a while.
In overtime of Game 6, Martin Fehervary knocked the puck over to Carlson, but the two-time Norris Trophy finalist couldn’t get the puck in the air and clear the area. The puck eventually found its way to Carter Verhaeghe who scored his sixth goal in the first-round series.
“It goes back to what TJ said,” Carlson said. “Does everyone invest? Obviously, right off the bat, it makes things worse (because they were). “
The most crucial play of the entire series ended up being Garnet Hathway’s miss of a goal into an empty net from inches away in Game 4. The Panthers equalized a minute later and won again in extra time via a Verhaeghe goal.
“That didn’t happen,” Laviolette said. “You cannot live in this world. You must close the door.
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