Quick Links

For the Caps, this year's loss hurts more than all the others

For the Caps, this year's loss hurts more than all the others

It was a depressingly familiar scene on Thursday as the Washington Capitals gathered at Kettler Capitals Iceplex after failing to live up to postseason expectations yet again. When the players spoke, however, it became clear that this year’s loss was anything but familiar.

Let’s face it, the Caps have been here before. Washington has failed to get past the second round of the playoffs since 1998 including eight playoff campaigns in the Alex Ovechkin era.

But this year felt different. It did to the fans, it did to the media and it especially did to the players. That was evident on Thursday as each player describing this year’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I think this is probably the toughest one,” Marcus Johansson said.

“This is by far the toughest, for sure,” Jay Beagle said. “We've had great teams in the past and the expectation is always to win the Cup, but this year, mentally, it was going all the way. We weren't expecting to leave. It hurts.”

The recent history of this team is unfortunately full of embarrassing losses in the playoffs. They lost in Game 7 to Pittsburgh in a 6-2 blowout in 2009, were shocked by Jaroslav Halak and Montreal Canadiens in 2010, got swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011, lost another Game 7 in blowout fashion (5-0) to the New York Rangers in 2013 and blew a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers in 2015.

RELATED: Williams already eager to silence the criticism

And yet it was this year, losing in six games to Pittsburgh, that cuts the deepest.

“It's not like any I've ever experienced before,” Braden Holtby said. “It's just the potential that we had in our group and the belief in what we were trying to accomplish was not like any other team I've been on before. It's tough.”

“It just felt different,” John Carlson said. “It felt like everyone was suiting up. I don't know the right way to describe it. It was by far the hardest and stings the most and hurts and will hurt for a long time. I think we had something really special.”

No one, however, looked or sounded more devastated than Matt Niskanen.

The veteran defenseman looked emotional as he stood at the podium talking to reporters. He spoke slowly and softly, thoughtfully answering each question. When asked about this year’s loss, Niskanen did not hold back.

“This is the most hurt I've been in my career,” he said. “You don't know how often opportunities are going to come along where you have this kind of team. You don't. Things happen, rosters change, momentum changes. I've been on some teams where you got a pretty good chance and because of the people on your team you think you always have a chance, but this sure felt like the year. It hurts right now.”

It’s tough to get players to agree on much. Each person brings their own perspective to every situation. When asked what was the deciding factor for the Penguins, some players said speed, others said goaltending and still others said puck luck.

But to a man, all the players said this was the toughest playoff loss they’ve ever felt and you could tell by the way they spoke and the looks on their faces that each one of them meant it.

Said Johansson, “I think we all wanted and expected more from us. There's nothing more to say. It sucks.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps' Alzner on injury: 'I just felt it pop'

Quick Links

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

Quick Links

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."