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The Caps fought, but still fell short of forcing Game 7

The Caps fought, but still fell short of forcing Game 7

PITTSBURGH -- There are single moments that define hockey games and, ultimately, playoff series. Capitals fans know this all too well.

Joel Ward will be remembered as much for his double minor for high sticking Carl Hagelin in Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Rangers as he will for his series-clinching overtime goal against the Bruins two weeks earlier.

Veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik will suffer the same ignominy following a very similar transgression early in the second period of the Capitals’ season-ending  4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins at Consol Energy Center Tuesday night.

Orpik got tangled up with Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist and as the two parted, Orpik’s stick blade carved a notch into the left side of Hornqvist’s bearded face. The referees had no choice but to give the Penguins a four-minute power play with 6:25 gone in the second period.

And just as the Rangers did in 2012, the Pens made the Caps pay.

Already leading 1-0 on Phil Kessel’s first-period goal, the Penguins received power-play goals from Kessel and, ironically, Hagelin just 33 seconds apart to take a 3-0 lead.

But the Capitals pulled off their own version of the Immaculate Resuscitation, getting a goal from T.J. Oshie late in the second period and third-period goals from Justin Williams and John Carlson to silence the crowd and breathe life into the Capitals fan base.

It all ended 6:32 into overtime when Nick Bonino hammered a Carl Hagelin rebound past Braden Holtby  to give the Penguins a 4-3 victory and end the Capitals’ Presidents’ Trophy winning season.

The timing of Orpik’s penalty was not as dramatic as Ward’s double minor four years ago -- which resulted in Brad Richards tying the game and Marc Staal winning it before Ward was released from the box – but the impact was no less damning.

Orpik was a symbol of the Capitals’ rebirth two years ago under Barry Trotz. That rebirth gave Caps fans renewed enthusiasm and excitement and a true belief things would be different for their favorite hockey team.

It almost was.

The Caps showed incredible fortitude and resiliency, playing much of the game without defenseman Karl Alzner, who played just 5:16 after suffering a groin injury early in the game. But in the end the Penguins were literally one goal better, outscoring the Caps 16-15 in the series.

And so here we are. Again.

The Capitals have reached the playoffs in eight of their last nine seasons with Alex Ovechkin. They have been eliminated in the first round three times and in the second round five times.

Many would look at this season, if not as a failure, than as a bitter disappointment. This was a team lauded as perhaps the best in franchise history.

And in the regular season, it was. But not in the playoffs.

Simply put, the Penguins were better when they had to be. The two teams entered Game 6 with 12 goals each. But when it came right down to it, 21-year-old rookie netminder Matt Murray outplayed Vezina Trophy finalist Braden Holtby. Even if it was by just one goal.

Against a Penguins team that has not lost back-to-back games since mid-January, the Capitals needed Holtby to be nearly perfect in the first period Tuesday night and he wasn’t.

With 5:41 gone in the contest, Kessel came down the left wing and unleashed a 43-foot snap shot through the legs of the Caps’ leading shot blocker Karl Alzner.

Holtby reacted late on the shot, which beat him just inside the short side post for Kessel’s fourth goal of the playoffs and first goal of the series.

Then came the two nails in the coffin. Forty seconds after Orpik was escorted to the penalty box Kessel found open space in front of Holtby and outwaited him to make it 2-0. Thirty-three seconds later Hagelin redirected an Olli Maatta shot past Holtby and the rout was on.

T.J. Oshie got the Caps on the board with his team-high sixth goal of the playoffs with 1:30 remaining in the second period, but Murray made his biggest stop of the game just 20 seconds into the final period when he closed his pads on an Andre Burakovsky breakaway.

The Caps fought their way back to tie the score with third-period goals by Williams and Carlson, but they simply ran out of gas on a night when Carlson played 33:12 and Matt Niskanen played 30:55.

And now comes an offseason filled with questions.

The Capitals were rebuilt with a three- or four-year window to win. Everyone from team owner Ted Leonsis and general manager Brian MacLellan to the players themselves have acknowledged as much.

Many of those same players will be back next season to renew their quest to finally get past the second round. But for now, next season seems like years away.

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Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread


Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Red Wings will be broadcast on NBCSN.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (42-24-7) take on the Red Wings (27-35-11) Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Detroit.


The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBCSN. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Check back with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Red Wings (on NBCSN)
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime


Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Red Wings game:

Alex Ovechkin -  Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Travis Boyd - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body injury), Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek


You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

No player on the Caps gets more scrutiny than defenseman Brooks Orpik. While the analytics aren't kind when he's on the ice, we got to see what the Caps looked like without him when he was scratched against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday and...well, his loss was noticeable.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir discuss what Orpik's true impact on the Capitals really is both on and off the ice on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast. Plus, they also talk about John Carlson's monster season and Barry Trotz's new strategy for the goalies.

Listen to the latest episode in the player below or here on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.