A streak of 11 straight one-goal playoff games between the Capitals and Boston Bruins was snapped on Friday in Boston's emphatic 4-1 Game 4 win. After three games decided by overtime, the loss Friday felt deflating as it was the first time one team looked to be in control of the series and it also pushed Washington to the brink of elimination. The Caps will have to recover quickly to prevent the season from ending on Sunday in Game 5.
The message after Game 4 was unequivocal. Washington just had to be better than what it showed on Friday.
"Every aspect of the game, we've got to be better," Lars Eller said.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing and a little frustration as well," Nicklas Backstrom said. "But at the same time, it’s not over."
A 4-1 loss may not be a blowout, but it certainly felt like one to the Caps, as there was not a single thing they could point to following the game as a positive from their performance.
"This one, we just weren’t good enough," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "We weren’t fast enough. We didn’t execute well enough.”
He added, "There was a lot of things that seemed like they were off tonight. The jump was off, the compete was off, our execution, 5-on-5 play needs to be better, the specialty teams need to be better, so there is a lot of … it was an off night. It just wasn’t a good night.”
Washington was outshot 37-20, went 1-for-7 on the power play, gave up three goals on five power plays to the Bruins, managed just one high-danger 5-on-5 scoring chance and was just outmatched in a way that was not expected considering how close the previous games had been and how the team seemed to be getting healthier. With the return of Lars Eller for Game 4, as well as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov in Game 3, this was the most full the roster has looked in the series. Yet, it did not translate into a better result.
"We’ve got to be mentally ready and we’ve got to play for each other," Backstrom said. "That’s maybe something we didn’t do tonight.”
Washington now must spend the next two days trying not to allow the gravity of the situation to overwhelm them.
"We’ve just got to take one shift at a time, one game at a time, that kind of scenario, from now on," Backstrom said. "Yeah, it’s a tough situation, but we’ve got to believe in the locker room. We need to regroup here and go from there.”
"You've got to know what situation we're in so you want to see a desperate team, you want to see fight," Eller said. "At the same time, we've got to stay composed, but we need the best from everybody, from every individual. We need a lot more than what we got tonight and I know we can do it."
Not only do the Caps face a 3-1 series deficit and sit one loss away from the end of the season, but the future for this team and its core is very much uncertain.
With a flat salary cap, a new deal needed for Alex Ovechkin and the Seattle expansion draft looming, difficult decisions are going to have to be made in the offseason that will lead to a different looking team for the start of the 2021-22 season. That is now what hangs over them as they look to take on the monumental task of overcoming a 3-1 hole.
But this is not a task the players feel is beyond them, so long as they each recognize that they all will have to be better in Game 5.
"We were off and now we've got 48 hours to regroup here and I want to see a different team in Game 5 at home," Eller said. "I believe we can do that, I've seen it before."