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The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

WASHINGTON – This was not the way it was supposed to end.

The feeling after the Capitals’ Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday was one of shock. There is always an element of that when a team gets eliminated from the playoffs in overtime, but it wasn’t how they lost that made it so stunning. It was when.

“Everything can happen in a seven-game series,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We all seen that. But right now it's just disappointing. We would've liked a better outcome. ... It's tough to swallow"

“We fight through 82 games and in Game 7, they score one goal and it’s a kind of situation where you’re disappointed, you’re frustrated, especially after last year,” Alex Ovechkin said.

After winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and returning with largely the same core intact, returning as the defending champs to win the Metropolitan Division for a fourth consecutive year, no one envisioned Washington’s defense of the Cup and its quest to repeat to end in the first round. That was especially true when the Caps drew Carolina as their first-round opponent, a plucky team with a first-year head coach that made it to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

It looked like a favorable matchup for Washington. It wasn’t.

“All series long it was a game of mistakes,” Brooks Orpik said.

The Caps took a 2-0 lead in the series, Carolina battled back to tie it 2-2. Washington won the all-important Game 5 to push the Hurricanes to the brink, Carolina responded by winning Game 6 to force the all-or-nothing Game 7. The Caps even jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 7 and yet the Hurricanes just kept coming.

In the end, the overtime loss was shocking, but not surprising. Carolina had taken control in the second period and never looked back. They fired the first nine shots on goal in overtime and were controlling the play over a Washington team that just looked gassed. The Caps needed to get a favorable bounce, otherwise it was only a matter of time before Carolina would finish them off and that was exactly what happened as Brock McGinn deflected in a shot for the overtime winner.

There are many reasons Washington ultimately lost this series, but it was for none of the typical reasons we see in most upsets.

This was not a case of a goalie standing on his head to completely shut down Washington’s offense. Petr Mrazek made some key saves at times, but ultimately finished the series with a .899 save percentage. Take away the six-goal blowout of Game 5 and Mrazek’s save percentage rises to .919. That’s better, but still would rank only sixth among goalie with at least four starts this postseason.

This was not a case of a superstar forward putting the team on his back and carrying them to the improbable upset. Sebastian Aho tallied five points in seven games, Teuvo Taravainen had four. Both had fewer points that Jaccob Slavin who had nine assists and Warren Foegele who scored an improbable four goals and two assists.

This was not a case of Washington’s best players not showing up. Alex Ovechkin scored four goals and five assists to lead the team with nine points. Right behind him was Nicklas Backstrom with five goals and three assists. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored only one goal in seven games, but his one goal came in Game 7 to restore Washington’s two-goal lead in the second period.

Washington finished with a 25-percent power play and an 88-percent penalty kill, bot respectable numbers.

The Caps lost Michal Kempny and T.J. Oshie – both significant injuries – but Carolina had a number of significant injuries as well.

Really, the biggest reason the Caps felt they lost is because they were out-played, out-hustled and out-worked.

“I think we were all guilty of some mistakes at different times that were maybe a little uncharacteristic of us,” Orpik said. “Two two-goal leads at home within the same game is kind of a tough one to swallow. I don’t know if unacceptable is the right word but you have to be able to maintain those leads, especially on home ice and this time of the year. We made mistakes but they played great all series so it wasn’t just us. Eventually you have to give them credit at some point.”

Now instead of preparing for the quick turnaround of playing and starting a second-round series against the New York Islanders on Friday, the season is over and the Caps are left to wonder what could have been.

Already eliminated in the first round were the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators, all thought to be Cup contenders. Heck, even archrival Pittsburgh was out. Alex Ovechkin was playing at the top of his game as he claimed his eight Rocket Richard Trophy after leading the league in goals yet again. That performance carried over to the postseason and he was brilliant in Wednesday’s game.

But despite how favorable the road in front of them looked for another Cup run, despite the unreal performance the team’s top stars were delivering, none of it ultimately mattered.

The only thing harder than winning a Stanley Cup is winning it twice. Perhaps to expect a second championship was unrealistic. But a first round exit felt too soon. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end for a team that had finally learned how to win.

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs were already turning into the year of the upset. The Caps became the latest victim of that on Wednesday. And finally, a party that had begun in June 2018, came to an end officially meaning a new champion will be crowned.

“Every opportunity missed is devastating, really,” John Carlson said. “You only get to do this for so long and I've been fortunate to be on great teams. When you don't do well, it's more than we were up in a series or a game. It's everything. It hurts.”

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Why goalies will have the hardest time adjusting to NHL's return, per Joe Beninati

Why goalies will have the hardest time adjusting to NHL's return, per Joe Beninati

With commissioner Gary Bettman's announcement of the NHL's plan for returning to play, hockey fans and players alike can begin to gear up for a 24-team postseason frenzy at some point this summer. 

Teams will have time to shake the rust off in training camp since the league went on hiatus nearly three months ago. July 1 is the earliest camp can begin. Players like Capitals defenseman John Carlson, who admittedly hasn't touched his skates since March, will have to get back in shape quickly before the first puck drops. 

However, Capitals play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati thinks the skaters will be fine. It's the goalies that face the biggest challenge getting back to where they were when the season was suspended.

"I think the goaltending is going to be the most difficult to return," Beninati said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "These guys keep themselves in great shape, they'll get reacclimated, their skating muscles will return in that two-week camp period. For goalies, it's especially difficult to get that timing back and the goaltending role is so explosive. They're asking their bodies to do so many things so reflexively, so powerfully, and quickly that you may be dealing with injuries there."

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Beninati also noted that with expanded rosters under this new format, teams should be able to carry as many goaltenders as they like along with 28 skaters. While having to start your third or fourth goalie in a playoff game may not be an ideal situation if players start getting hurt left and right, it's at least good the league has a preventative measure in place. 

One of the most important aspects of playoff success in the NHL is goaltending. Even if training camp begins on July 1, that'd be nearly four months to make up for physically and mentally with an apparent increased risk of injury. Then you have a massive 24-team field in an NHL playoff setting known for its unpredictability. 

It's probably safe to say the 2020 NHL playoffs will be wild. 

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Fans choice should be clear: Why Oshie, Vrana should win 'Best Bromance'

Fans choice should be clear: Why Oshie, Vrana should win 'Best Bromance'

The Capitals have always been home to some impressively strong bromances (see Ovechkin-Backstrom, Chimera-Ward, Wilson-Latta just to name a few) but there might be none better than the developing connection between linemates T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana. With the NHL Fan Choice Awards in their final week of voting, we thought we would help jog your memory (in case you’ve forgotten) with five reasons why Oshie and Vrana deserve your vote for Best Bromance in the NHL.

5. You’re great! No, you’re great! No, really, you’re great!

It was clear early on this season that the relationship had gone to new heights and the world got to experience it firsthand on December 11th when Oshie and Vrana paid each other compliments after a spectacular goal by No. 77.



After Oshie dangled the Bruins defense, Vrana was sure enough the first teammate there to celebrate and then after the game, Oshie joked that he had to look down and check his skates to make sure they weren’t Vrana’s based on his speed burst. Quick to the repay the comment, Vrana took to Twitter to compliment his linemate on his silky smooth mitts.



They really are too cute.

4. Checking In During Coronavirus Isolation

Last week, Vrana participated in a cook-off with teammate Jonas Siegenthaler and Oshie tuned in to see how things were going. No less than 10 seconds into joining, Oshie recognized and commented on his bro’s new ‘do!

Even during isolation, Oshie is always checking in on his linemate.



Oshie then continued on to taunt Vrana about what seemed like far too clean a house for his linemate and say that his food looked a little dry. But the best part is just the two of them calling each other “liney” the whole time. If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.

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3. Sit Back and Watch the Shootout Show

Earlier this year, with the All-Star Game approaching in St. Louis, Oshie found himself on the ballot to be the Last Man In from the Metro Division. Who gave the best endorsement? You guessed it, that would be Vrana.



Oshie then invited Vrana to join him as a package deal, but Vrana had other plans: watching with a nice bowl of popcorn from the couch.

2. Bro Shark, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo 

January 5th looked like it was going to be a very disappointing loss for the Capitals. Hosting the San Jose Sharks, a Logan Couture empty-netter with 1:00 left in regulation seemingly sealed the deal for the visitors with a 2-goal cushion. Never say never. 

First, it was Vrana who brought the Caps back within 1 with 47 seconds left. Then, it was his linemate Oshie who tallied the tying goal with just 15 seconds left on the clock. Our NBC Sports Washington cameras caught another intimate moment for the pair when they got back to the bench.



Could they be any cuter?

1. From One Liney to Another

Yes. They could be cuter. Here’s how.



I mean, look at that. C’mon people, this is the best bromance in the NHL and honestly, it’s not even close. Does anyone else have a t-shirt for their bromance? I thought not. Case closed.

Click here to vote (voting ends on Monday, June 1).

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