If you are going to run a team out of the building, make sure you push them past the exits. If you don’t, you risk being in a world of hurt when the momentum fades.
And thus did it happen to the Washington Capitals as they fell to the New York Rangers, 5-0, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Verizon Center on Monday night. The 5-0 score was the worst defeat the Caps suffered in a playoff game since losing to Pittsburgh, 7-1, in Game 6 of the first round of the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was the most lopsided Game 7 loss in team history.
It did not start that way. The Caps owned the first 13 minutes of the game, outshooting the Rangers, 9-5, and out-attempting the visitors by a 22-12 margin. And as if to punctuate the manner in which the Capitals were dominating play, Alex Ovechkin recorded five hits in those first 13 minutes, and the Caps enjoyed a 12-4 edge in faceoffs.
Then, the Rangers scored a goal. It happened as it so often does, with not one, but two missed chances at the other end by the Caps just before the Rangers converted. Mike Green broke behind Anton Stralman to collect a loose puck and skate in alone on goalie Henrik Lundqvist on a semi-breakaway. Lundqvist stopped Green’s drive with his right pad. Green slid into the end boards, but from his side he flicked the puck in front. Lundqvist got just enough of his stick on it to alter its direction before Tom Wilson could bury it on the follow up. The Rangers broke back in numbers, Chris Kreider dropping the puck for Asham just inside the Caps’ blue line. Asham stepped in and snapped a shot past Braden Holtby, and the well-crafted momentum the Caps built in the first 13 minutes was gone.
The Caps would never get it back. In the next 47 minutes they would manage 47 shot attempts (26 on goal), but none would get past Lundqvist, while the Rangers rode the efforts of the lesser known lights on their roster – Taylor Pyatt, Michael Del Zotto, and Mats Zuccarello, with a goal by Ryan Callahan thrown in – to make the eagerly anticipated contest turn into a chamber of horrors for Holtby, the Caps, and their fans. When it was finally over, the Rangers had a ticket to the second round, and the Capitals ended their season in the first round of the post-season for the 14th time in 24 playoff appearances.
-- Before tonight the Caps appeared in 11 Game 7’s in club history, and in eight of those instances the game ended in a one-goal decision. In fact, the Caps had never played anything but one-goal decisions in Game 7’s against teams other than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Until tonight.
-- Alex Ovechkin had a shot on goal at the 13:54 mark of the first period. It would be his only shot on goal for the game.
-- Nicklas Backstrom did not record his first shot on goal until the 17:44 mark of the second period. By that time, the Rangers had a 3-0 lead.
-- In one of the more bizarre turns of this game, Karl Alzner led the team in shots on goal with five. It tied a career high (set on April 16th against Toronto) and set a career post-season high.
-- Braden Holtby would end this series with consistency issues. In four games he allowed one or no goals, and in three others he allowed four or more. He allowed five on 27 shots tonight.
-- Much will be written in the days to come about the shortcomings of the top line in this game and this series, but the second line was brutal. Mike Ribeiro, Eric Fehr, and Troy Brouwer combined for five shots on goal, but the killer was Ribeiro and Fehr being on ice for four of the five Rangers goals, and Brouwer being on for three.
-- Amazingly enough, the Caps were 21-for-32 on offensive zone draws (65.6 percent). They could generate no offense off their good fortune, though.
-- Alex Ovechkin (13 hits) and Mike Ribeiro (5) combined for almost half the total number of hits for the team (39). They combined for four shots on goal. A hundred times out of a hundred, that’s the wrong order of those numbers.
-- Speaking of which, ten skaters had more hits than shots on goal. They needed to make things tougher on Henrik Lundqvist than that.
-- There might have been one Cap who played past expectations in this one – Tom Wilson. In nine minutes, two shots on goal (four attempts), three hits, and a takeaway.
-- Seven Rangers scored either their first point or their first goal of the series in this game (Kreider, Pyatt, Del Zotto, Eminger, Zuccarello, Dorsett, Callahan).
In the end, it is too soon to render a verdict on this season. We will do that in the days to come. But this team lacked discipline in this game. Not the discipline to avoid taking penalties, but the discipline to play hard, consistent, and relentlessly over 60 minutes. Tonight they were the equivalent of a Roman candle -- a lot of light and noise for a short time, then…silence. It was not the referees, it was not the back-to-back games, it was not even as much the Rangers.
It was themselves.