And just like that, it ended. The Washington Capitals’ spectacular playoff run in which they knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and pushed the top seeded New York Rangers to a game seven is over. As with most games in these playoffs, the winning margin was a single goal as the Rangers downed the Caps, 2-1.
New York’s $60 million man, Brad Richards, struck early for the Rangers, giving his team the lead at just 1:32 of the first period. The all important first goal was Richards’ team leading sixth of the post-season (assists: Carl Hagelin, Michael Del Zotto). Henrik Lundqvist was once again his future hall of fame self, stopping all eight of the Capitals’ shots to keep his team on top.
In period two, Lundqvist elevated his game beyond his near superhuman ability, stopping each of the eleven shots he faced, several in dramatic fashion to keep Washington off of the board. Things were looking up for the Caps, however, as they finally established consistent zone pressure, even holding the puck in the Randers’ zone for close to two minutes at one point. Still, in spite of their offensive push, the Caps could not put the puck in the net and remained behind by a goal.
The Caps would continue their solid play into the third period but would not translate it into a goal until it was too late. At 10:05 of the period, New York’s Michael Del Zotto beat Braden Holtby low, stick side to increase his team’s lead to two. The eventual game and series winner was Del Zotto’s second goal of the playoffs (assists: Marian Gaborik, Carl Hagelin). Roman Hamrlik would bring Washington back to within one moments later, at 10:43 (1, assists: Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera) but it was too little, too late. Limiting the Caps to just one shot on goal from there on out, the Rangers would hang on for the 2-1 game seven victory and the 4-3 series win.
The thing that we must take away from Washington’s postseason success is that the Caps have finally, at long last, learned how to play playoff hockey. Dale Hunter has done what Glen Hanlon and Bruce Boudreau failed to do and has shown the team the value of defense. With this lesson in mind, the Capitals’ stars have to stay committed to the new system in the offseason and through training camp. Having seen for themselves that it can work, I believe that it will be easier for them to buy in than it has been in the past.
If this can happen, the front office can keep the necessary players (read: John Carlson, Mike Green, Mathieu Perreault, and possibly Alexander Semin) in town, and Hunter decides to remain in the NHL rather than return to the London Knights of the OHL, the Caps will be in a very good position to begin next season. This loss will prove particularly tough to swallow for the entire fan base and organization but Dale Hunter and General Manger George McPhee clearly believe in the future and, as it stands now, the team does too. There’s no reason that Caps’ fans should not feel the same way.