Thursday, August 20, 2015

Washington Capitals -- Not All Playoffs are the Same: Part VI

Two more to go in our look at the playoff history of the Rock the Red era in Washington Capitals hockey.  The penultimate review looks at a postseason that did not end differently than any number playoff appearances by the Caps, but more than many of those others, it begged an important question.

2. 2015: Finally getting it right after all these years?

“Stability" is not a word one would immediately use when characterizing Capitals hockey in the Rock the Red era of playoff appearances.  In the past eight seasons the Caps employed two general managers, five coaches, 99 skaters, 11 goaltenders, and appeared in the postseason seven times.  Four times they advanced to the second round of the playoffs but no further.  The last of those four appearances in the second round of the postseason came in 2015 after yet another off-season and regular season of twists and turns. 

The 2014-2015 season started almost as soon as the Caps finished their 2013-2014 season out of the playoffs for the first time since 2007.  On April 26, 2014, just 13 days after the Caps’ season came to a merciful end, the club relieved head coach Adam Oates of his responsibilities and announced that they would not retain the services of George McPhee as general manager.  In 17 years under McPhee’s management the Caps had a regular season record of 613-488-108, with 69 ties.  The team reached the postseason 10 times in 16 seasons (the 2004-2005 season lost to a labor-management dispute), advancing to the Stanley Cup final in McPhee’s first season but advancing as far as the second round only three times after that.

Oates, a Hall of Fame center who played parts of six seasons with the Caps, was excused after two seasons in which he posted a 65-48-17 record, reaching the playoffs in his first season where he and the Caps lost to the New York Rangers in seven games.  Whatever magic he worked in restoring Alex Ovechkin goal-scoring production in his first season at the helm (after moving him to right wing in the 2012-2013 seasion, Ovechkin recorded 32 goals in 48 games, a 55-goal pace over a full season), Oates looked out of his depth for most of his second season, overseeing a club that lost 12 of its last 21 games to fall out of playoff contention.

Exactly one month later, the Caps promoted Brian MacLellan from assistant general manager to the general manager position, and they hired Barry Trotz, formerly head coach of the Nashville Predators, to that position with the Caps.  In hiring Trotz, the Caps broke a string of five straight coaches hired without NHL head coaching experience (Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, and Oates).  If the moves looked incremental or safe, the team almost admitted as much.  As principal owner Ted Leonsis put it:
“While we felt we needed to make significant changes – and we did by moving on the GM and coach – we also didn’t feel we had to completely rebuild or start from scratch…” 
MacLellan and Trotz wasted little time putting their stamp on the club.  The coaching roster was filled out with the signing of Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn, both of whom served with Trotz in Nashville, and Todd Reirden, who had been an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  They joined Blaine Forsyth, Olaf Kolzig, and Scott Murray, who were retained in other coaching positions.

Then the player roster was addressed.  On the first day of the unrestricted free agency signing period, MacLellan signed defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, formerly of the Penguins, and goaltender Justin Peters, formerly of the Carolina Hurricanes, to fill specific needs.  They were the highest profile signings by the club in the early days of free agency since perhaps 2011 (Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Vokoun), and might have exceeded any early-July signing group assembled by MacLellan’s predecessor, George McPhee.

It was left to play the games.  The Caps started doing so under Trotz in successful fashion, going 4-1-2 in their first seven games.  Then they stumbled, losing five in a row to drop to 4-5-3.  They were struggling in an unexpected way.  In goal, Braden Holtby was 3-3-2, 2.67, .891, with one shutout, while backup Justin Peters was 1-2-1, 3.04, .880.  Despite Capital goaltenders facing fewer than 25 shots per 60 minutes (24.8, in fact), goalie coach Mitch Korn’s effect on them was yet to be felt in any obvious way.

The light seemed to go on over Holtby’s head shortly thereafter.  Starting with a 38-save win in a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on November 7th, Holtby would appear in 42 games and lose in regulation in consecutive appearances only once.  In those 42 games he went 26-9-7, 2.04, .931, with five shutouts.  He finished the season first in the league in appearances (73) and minutes (4,247), third in wins (41), fifth in goals against average (2.22), eighth in save percentage (.923), and tied for second in shutouts (9). 

On the other hand, Peters never really got out of the rut into which he fell to start the season. After that 1-2-1 start he would appear in just eight more games, finishing the season with a 3-6-1 record, a 3.25 goals against average, and a .881 save percentage.  His was the second worst goals against average in the league among goalies appearing in at least a dozen games, and his save percentage was last in that group.

Among the skaters, it was tempting to take for granted some performances, but they were excellent nonetheless,  Alex Ovechkin won his third straight (and fifth overall) Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer and improved his plus-minus from a widely ridiculed minus-35 in 2013-2014 to plus-10.  Nicklas Backstrom did what he has done from the moment he stepped on the ice for the Capitals in 2007 – average about a point per game (78 in 82 games).  Meanwhile, John Carlson took his place among the top-echelon of NHL defensemen, finishing the season having appeared in every game for the fifth straight season, 11th in goals among defensemen (12), tied for fifth in assists (43), tied for fifth in points (55), and second in even-strength points (38).

The Caps were blessed with good health as well, with seven skaters appearing in all 82 games and 12 appearing in at least 75 games.  The top four defensemen – Carlson, Niskanen, Orpik, and Karl Alzner – missed to total of only four games (all by Orpik).  Even Mike Green, whose mid-career had been plagued by a series of injuries, appeared in 72 games, his highest total since the 2009-2010 season (75).

It all came together for the Caps, enabling them to win 45 games and finish with 101 standings points, an improvement of seven wins and 11 points from the previous season.  Washington finished second in the Metropolitan Division, earning them home ice advantage in an opening round series against the New York Islanders.

For all the good it did the Capitals in Game 1.  In four games in the regular season between these two teams, the Caps and Isles won two games apiece.  Three of the four games went to extra  time.  Game 1 would not end that way, though.  The Islanders scored first on a Brock Nelson goal that Holtby might have wanted back six minutes into the game.  Marcus Johansson got the Caps back into the game late in the period by taking advantage of some hard work by Brooks Laich.  Mike Green started the play by working the puck up from behind the Caps’ net.  After it was swept deep into the Islander end, Laich beat two Islander defenders and goalie Jaroslav Halak to the puck.  Laich worked it around the boards in the corner, then saw Johansson filling in at the top of the right wing circle.  Johansson took the pass, curled to the dot, then ripped a wrist shot past Halak’s blocker to tie the game with 56.3 seconds left in the period.

It would be the last highlight for the Caps in Game 1.  Ryan Strome broke the tie less than four minutes into the second period, and Josh Bailey made it 3-1 seven minutes later.  Nelson added an empty net goal with 1:19 left in the contest, and the Isles grabbed home ice advantage with a 4-1 win.

Having lost Game 1 on home ice, the Caps needed a big rebound from everyone, especially goaltender Braden Holtby, who allowed three goals on 22 shots in Game 1.  Unfortunately, Holtby was, uh…indisposed with an illness that head coach Barry Trotz told reporters was “none of your business, really.”  That left it up to Philipp Grubauer, who appeared just once for the Caps in the regular season (a wion against Anaheim in February), to fill in and perhaps save the Caps’ season. 

Unfortunately, New York picked up where they left off in Game 1 at the start of Game 2.  Cal Clutterbuck scored when he called his own number on a two-on-one rush five minutes into the game.  Ryan Strome doubled the Islanders’ lead three minutes into the second period when he ripped a one-timer from the high slot off a pass from John Tavares past Grubauer.

Two goals on ten shots by the Isles, and the Caps were in trouble.  Then, the ice tilted.  The Caps outshot the Islanders, 7-2, in almost eight minutes after the Strome goal, then scored when Mike Green fed Karl Alzner at the far edge of the right wing circle for a one-timer that beat Jaroslav Halak on his glove side.  The Islanders restored their two-goal lead three minutes later on a Kyle Okposo goal, but it did not blunt the Caps’ momentum.  Alex Ovechkin scored his first of the postseason two minutes after Okposo, and the Isles took a 3-2 lead to the third period.

Then the Caps won the game within a game.  Tom Wilson, who would figure large in this series in edgy ways, drew a slashing penalty from Strome 2:50 into the third period.  It resulted in the Caps’ only power play of the contest.  With 54 seconds gone in the man advantage, Nicklas Backstrom took advantage of uncertain defense to tie the game.  Taking a pass from John Carlson at the red line and skated down the middle toward the Islander zone.  Four defenders surrounded Backstrom and backed off him in a box formation expecting a pass.  Backstrom just kept going, and when he reached the hashmarks he snapped a shot past Halak.

Less than four minutes later, the Caps had the lead.  Nick Leddy made a huge mistake, taking the puck beneath his own goal line and trying to force a pass up the middle.  It was intercepted by Matt Niskanen just inside the blue line.  He backhanded the puck to Jason Chimera, who fired it from the right wing circle toward the Islander net.  Halak made the save but the rebound was nudged by Jay Beagle back to Chimera.  He did not fail a second time.  His shot beat Halak past his blocker on the long side.

That left it up to the young goaltender, Grubauer.  He was aided by a Caps defense that allowed only five shots on goal in the last 12:23 following the Chimera goal, and Grubauer stopped them all.  The Caps salvaged a split in their first two games of the series at home and headed to Long Island.

The object here for the Caps was to obtain at least a split at Nassau Coliseum.  It would take a smart, controlled road game approach to accomplish that, and they applied just that approach to the start of Game 3.  The teams were scoreless for the first 32 minutes, but it would be the Caps who would blink first.  Finding it difficult to clear the puck out of their own end, the Caps were relying on Braden Holtby, back from his bout with illness, to keep the Isles at bay.  Finally, the Islanders broke through on a Lubomir Visnovsky drive that was redirected by Kyle Okposo for the game’s first goal.

At the other end, the Caps were having no success, having directed only 13 shots on Jaroslav Halak over the first two periods.  The Caps dialed up the pressure in the third period, and they were rewarded when Nicklas Backstrom took a pass from Mike Green along the right wing wall, curled out above the faceoff circles, found a shooting angle he liked, and snapped a shot that deflected off the crossbar and in to tie the game with 6:06 left in regulation.

That would be how the teams would go to overtime, but the extra session was over in the blink of an eye.  The Islanders won the opening faceoff of overtime and sent the puck into the Caps’ end.  Holtby gloved the dump-in down and left the puck for John Carlson in the corner to his right.  Carlson sent the puck up the wall, but without much pace, and it was intercepted by Nick Leddy at the blue line.  His drive was redirected by Nikolai Kulemin, but Holtby stopped it.  He did not control the rebound, though, and it ended up on the stick of John Tavares, who put it back to end the overtime at the 15 second mark in a 2-1 Islander win.

The Caps found themselves in the position of facing a two-game deficit when Game 4 began.  They did, however, break on top in the first period when a harmless looking John Carlson shot from the blue line was redirected by Alex Ovechkin as he was skating between the hashmarks in front of Halak.  The Isles tied the game with just 12.6 seconds left in the period when Casey Cizikas jumped on a rebound of a bouncing Cal Clutterbuck shot that handcuffed Braden Holtby.

And that was it for the scoring in regulation.  Holtby stopped 21 shots over the last 40 minutes; Halak turned away 13.  In overtime, though the Caps dominated play.  It would be Backstrom taking things into his own hands to end it.  After winning a faceoff to Halak’s left, the puck came back to him in the corner.  Waiting for John Tavares to commit on defense, Backstrom stepped aside and up the right wing wall, whereupon Tavares lost his stick.  Backstrom continued turning around the top of the faceoff circle and slung a long-distance shot that flew through a maze of players and past Halak to tie the series.

Game 5 in Washington meant that the Islanders would have to play shorthanded.  In the second period of Game 4, Tom Wilson took two penalties.  The first, a kneeing call when he encountered Josh Bailey, pased without undue turmoil.  The second, taken just 22 seconds after he returned to the ice, was much more consequential. 

Wilson was sent back to the box with a charging penalty, but Visnovsky left the ice, not to return to this or any other game in the series, having suffered a concussion.  The Islanders dressed Griffin Reinhart in Visnovsky’s place for Game 5, and while he had a fairly good game, at least at the start, his teammates did not.  After taking the early lead on a Josh Bailey goal less than six minutes into the game, they were steamrolled by the support troops for the Caps.  Evgeny Kuznetsov tied the game when he won a faceoff in the Islander end, then circled around to the far side of the net just in time to swat a loose puck out of mid-air and past Halak.

The Caps took the lead mid-way in the second on some persistent play from Troy Brouwer.  Calvin deHaan sent a weak pass up the middle from below his own faceoff circle that Jay Beagle deadened.  The puck rolled off Beagle’s stick, but Brouwer was there to collect it and get a shot off.  Halak trapped the puck, but not securely, and Brouwer poked it loose.  Carrying it around the back of the Islander net, he found Karl Alzner pinching down through the left wing circle.  Alzner’s one-timer beat Halak, and the Caps never looked back.  Brooks Laich scored less than three minutes into the third period, Kuznetsov scored his second of the game less than four minutes later, and Jason Chimera capped the scoring at the 9:00 mark for the final margin in the Caps’ 5-1 win.

As happens so often with the Caps, though, once they push a team to the edge of the cliff, they can’t manage to shove them off.  Back on Long Island, the Islanders and Caps exchanged goals in the first period – John Tavares for the Isles and John Carlson for the Caps, the latter scoring with just 4.3 seconds left in the period.  The second period passed without a red light going on, but the Islanders would ensure the series would go to one last game when Nikolai Kulemin scored mid-way through the period, and Cal Clutterbuck added an empty net goal with 52.6 seconds left to clinch Game 6, 3-1.

Game 7 in Washington.  We’ve been here before.  Seven of nine postseason series played to this point in the Rock the Red era went to a seventh game for the Caps.  The Caps were 2-5 in those series, 1-4 in Games 7 played at home.  The eighth Game 7 in their past ten playoff series started in tense fashion.  Neither team could score in the first period, although the Caps held an 11-3 edge in shots.  The Caps maintained the pressure in the second period, outshooting the Islanders, 18-6, over the first 18 minutes.  It looked as if the Caps were squandering yet another opportunity to close out a team in Game 7 on home ice.

Then, the “heavy” style of hockey the Caps adopted this season bore fruit.  With less than two minutes left in the period, Nicklas Backstrom slid the puck down the wall behind the Islander net.  Joel Ward locked up with Nick Leddy in a battle for the puck.  Ward won that battle and moved the puck to Alex Ovechkin in the corner.  Ovechkin sent the puck out to Brooks Orpik at the left point, during which Ward made his way to the front of the net.  Orpik fired a shot from the point that Halak stopped, but Ward had position on Leddy and Johnny Boychuk and stuffed the puck under Halak’s pads and in to give the Caps the lead.

The Islanders tied the game in the third period when Frans Nielsen fired a shot that Braden Holtby misplayed through his pads.  It looked as if the teams might have to settle this in overtime, but Evgeny Kuznetsov put an end to that thinking.  Jason Chimera fought off Boychuk in the corner to Halak’s left to move the puck up to Kuznetsov along the wall. Kuznetsov cut to the middle, slipped between three defenders, held the puck as Halak committee to the ice, then wristed the puck into the open net 12:42 into the period to give the Caps a 2-1 lead. 

The Caps clamped down from there, allowing just one Islander shot over the next 4:24.  But with 2:54 left in regulation, there was still some suspense to be dealt with.  John Carlson took a roughing penalty to put the Islanders a man up.  The Caps shut down the Islander power play, allowing only one shot attempt – a miss by Bailey – in the two minute advantage.  It was the last gasp for the Isles as the Caps closed the door on the game and the series, 2-1, to move on to the second round.

Caps…Rangers.  Again.  For the fifth time in seven years, the two teams met in the postseason.  The teams split their previous four meetings, the Caps winning in 2009 and 2011, the Rangers coming out on top in 2012 and 2013.  Game 1 was what this extended series was all about.  Coming into this game the teams had played 26 games in four series, and 18 of them ended in one goal decisions.  This contest would make it 19 in 27 games.  The Caps got started late in the first period in simple fashion.  On a power play, John Carlson skated out from behind his net and fed a long pass to Alex Ovechkin skating down the left wing in the neutral zone.  Ovechkin carried the puck into the Ranger end, backing off Brian Boyle.  At the top of the left wing circle Ovechkin snapped a shot that sailed over goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s glove and into the top corner of the net. 

Washington held that 1-0 lead for almost 40 minutes, but it was not long enough.  Jesper Fast tied the game with 4:39 left in regulation by being there.  A shot by Kevin Hayes from the blue line struck a Capital on its way through, then hit Fast’s leg, redirecting the puck just enough to elude goalie Braden Holtby to tie the game.

Overtime looked like a certainty in the last minute, but the Caps had one more push left.  Alex Ovechkin carried the puck into the Rangers’ zone but lost control of the puck and his balance.  Brian Boyle chased the puck into the corner for the Rangers, but Nicklas Backstrom separated him from the biscuit long enough for Ovechkin to get back into the play.  Ovechkin took the puck around the end wall, and as he was curling behind the Ranger net he threw a pass back and around Derek Stepan from the direction he came where Joel Ward was filling in.  Ward snapped a shot from the top of the crease that slid under Lundqvist’s left pad, and the Caps took the lead and Game 1 with 1.3 seconds left.

The Caps met a different Ranger team in Game 2, one that would get out to a quick lead.  Chris Kreider put the Rangers on top just 38 seconds into the contest.  Dan Boyle added to the Ranger lead on a power play late in the period to put the Rangers up, 2-0, heading to the first intermission.  It proved to be a bit much for the Caps to match.  Evgeny Kuznetsov got the Caps within a goal late in the second period by chasing his own dump-in and putting back a rebound of a shot by Jason Chimera.  Unfortunately, the Caps could not get the tying goal before the Rangers restored their two-goal lead, that coming when Derick Brassard got behind the Caps’ defense and scored six minutes into the third period.  Ovechkin scored four minutes later on a highlight goal, splitting two Ranger defenders and wristing the puck past Lundqvist as he was falling to the ice, but it was as close as the Caps could get in dropping Game 2 to the Rangers, 3-2.

Caps-Rangers series have been marked by a scarcity of goals, and Game 3 in Washington was no exception.  Neither team could put a mark on the score sheet in the first period, and they went another seven minutes into the second period before a red light was lit.  It was a frustrating moment followed by a surprising one.  Evgeny Kuznetsov lifted the puck into the Ranger zone from the red line to start a line change.  Troy Brouwer stayed on and put pressure on Martin St. Louis trying to reach the puck.  With those two locked up, the puck slid to Dan Girardi, who was pressured by Andre Burakovsky in the corner to Lundqvist’s right.  Burakovsky backhanded the puck to the middle, right on the tape of Jay Beagle skating down the middle.  Beagle had a wide-open opportunity for a one-timer, but Lundqvist got enough of the puck going by to steer it into the end wall.  Beagle followed up his own shot and got control of the puck behind the Ranger net.  From below the Ranger goal line he backhanded the puck in an effort to find Burakovsky closing on the net.  However, the puck struck the skate of defenseman Keith Yandle, hit Lundqvist’s pad, and caromed into the net to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.  That was all that Braden Holtby would need.  He faced 30 Ranger shots and turned all of them aside to earn his second career postseason shutout.

The teams played things close in the first three games, all of them ending in one-goal decisions.  Game 4 would prove to be no exception to the pattern.  In fact, Game 4 followed the script of Game e rather closely – no scoring in the first period followed by an extended scoreless stretch to start the second period.  Unlike Game 3, however, it was the Rangers that broke through first.  Martin St. Louis’ pass from the left wing to Derick Brassard darting down the middle was right on the tape of Brassard’s stick, and he had just enough of a lead on Alex Ovechkin bearing down from behind to lift the puck over the left arm of Holtby to make it 1-0 at the 6:12 mark.

Just over ten minutes later, the Caps tied it.  Andre Burakovsky, who recorded his first NHL postseason point in Game 3 with an assist, stole the puck from Chris Kreider along the right wing wall, curled to the middle, held the puck, then snapped it past Lundqvist’s blocker. 

It took less than half a minute of the third period to break the tie.  Ranger defenseman Ryan McDonagh had trouble controlling the puck at the red line in front of the penalty boxes.  It was kicked ahead by Troy Brouwer to Burakovsky behind the defense.  Burakovsky curled in and with McDonagh trying to annoy him off the puck, he shielded himself from the defender and unleashed a backhand the beat Lunsqvist on the far side to give the Caps a 2-1 lead 24 seconds into the period.  It was Braden Holtby’s game after that, and he stopped all nine Ranger shots he face in the third period to record the win and send the teams back to New York with the Caps in a position to clinch.

And that is just what the Caps were poised to do, nursing a goal by Curtis Glencross 11 minutes into the third period into the last two minutes of Game 5.  But Chris Kreider one-timed a pass from Derek Stepan from the left wing circle past Holtby to tie the game with just 1:41 left.  It was a place the Caps found themselves all too often over the course of their history, unable to close a team out in Game 5, and they paid for it mid-way through overtime.  From just outside his own blue line, Glencross tried a diagonal pass up ice to Brooks Laich.  The pass was knocked down by Jesper Fast, who turned and headed down the right wing into the Caps’ end.  As this was going on, Laich went to the bench, and that exchange might have created a fatal opening.  Fast sent the puck across to Stepan, who left it for McDonagh entering the zone, into a gap where either Laich or his replacement might have filled in.  Instead, there was nothing but open space, and McDonagh stepped up and fired a shot past Holtby to send the teams back to Washington for Game 6.

With a chance to close out the Rangers at home, the Caps laid an egg.  Kreider scored goals in the first and last minute of the first period, the second with two-tenths of a second left when a shot of a faceoff win was stopped by Holtby, but John Carlson kicked the puck back and between Holtby’s pads, leaving Kreider with a tap in. 

Jason Chimera got a tap-in of his own 28 seconds into the second period when Henrik Lundqvist did not handle Joel Ward’s shot from the top of the right wing circle cleanly.  The Caps could not get the tying goal in the second period, and the Rangers pulled away in the third.  Goals by Rick Nash and Dan Boyle less than five minutes in gave the Rangers a 4-1 lead.  Evgeny Kuznetsov made things more interesting in the eighth minute when Ward poked the puck off the stick off the stick of Stepan, and Kuznetsov rifled the loose puck off the post past Lundqvist on the short side. 

Ward got one of his own less than three minutes later when his persistence was rewarded in front of the Ranger net.  Jason Chimera fired the puck at the net from the left wing wall, and when Lundqvist made the save, Ward was there to poke it past Lundqvist’s left pad to get the Caps within a goal.  That would be as close as the Caps would get, though, and the Rangers skated off winners, 4-2, to send the series back to New York for Game 7.

For the fourth time in five series in seven years, the Caps and Rangers went to a seventh game.  In the previous three Games 7, the Rangers scored first.  Not so in this one.  As the first period was reaching he 13-minute mark, Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff in the Ranger end to the right of Lundqvist.  The puck came back to Ovechkin, who managed to poke free to Backstrom, who sent it down the wall to Marcus Johansson.  From the far edge of the faceoff circle, Johansson found Ovechkin cutting down the middle, and Ovechkin snapped the puck over Lundqvist’s glove to make it 1-0.

In the seventh minute of the second period, Kevin Hayes tied the game on a power play when he took a feed from J.T. Miller on the back side and slid the puck behind Holtby.  And that would be it.  For the second time in three games and second straight time in Madison Square Garden, the teams would go to an overtime tied, 1-1.

In the end, it ended quickly, but in slow motion.  The Rangers won a faceoff to the left of Holtby.  The puck slid back to Keith Yandle, who fed Dan Girardi for a one-timer.  Holtby kicked out the drive, but the rebound went straight to Derek Stepan, who wasted no time spiking the puck past Holtby, on his back in the paint.  Cue the handshakes.


For the fourth time in the Rock the Red era, the Caps made it to the second round, but no further. This one, however, felt different from the others.  There was a lot to build on, even in another second round loss.  For starters, there was Braden Holtby.  He was excellent in his first playoff appearance, that against the Boston Bruins in 2012, but he cemented his position as a goalie who could reasonably anchor a Cup winning team with his performance in this postseason.  Among goalies appearing in five or more games in the 2015 postseason, he had the best goals against average (1.71) and best save percentage (.944).   He is the only goalie since the 2004-2005 lockout having appeared in at least 25 postseason games with a career goals against average under 2.00 and a save percentage above .930.

Alex Ovechkin, for the fourth time in five postseasons, recorded five goals, but he had an interesting supporting cast.  Evgeny Kuznetsov, appearing in his second postseason, tied Ovechkin in goals with five.  John Carlson became only the third Capital defenseman in the Rock the Red era to finish with more than five points for a postseason (1-5-6), joining Mike Green (three times) and Tom Poti.

The Caps were within two minutes of clinching their second round series in Game 5 and an overtime away from it in Game 7 against the Rangers.  While there might be truth in that there are only so many bites at the apple a team might get in advancing to a Stanley Cup, the 2015 team looked to be closer to realizing that goal than perhaps any team in the Rock the Red era.  For the first time, perhaps ever in this era and certainly since 2010, one had the sense they were closer than they ever were to getting it right in the postseason.

Photo: Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

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