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Alex Ovechkin disappointed after another premature postseason exit

Alex Ovechkin disappointed after another premature postseason exit

PITTSBURGH – Alex Ovechkin stood in front of the bright glare of the cameras, a towel around his neck, and spoke in a whisper, his lips occasionally quivering with emotion.

This was a man who had wrung every ounce of sweat from his body and fell short of getting the Capitals to a conference final. Again.

“We make a great push and then nothing,” Ovechkin said in a quiet visiting dressing room at Consol Energy Center, where the Penguins ended the Capitals’ season with a 4-3 overtime victory. “We tied the game and had an opportunity to win it in the end, but we missed an opportunity. In overtime it’s one shot, obviously.”

Penguins forward Nick Bonino took that shot with 6:32 gone in overtime of Game 6, ending a series that saw little separation between the two teams. Five of the six games were decided by one goal and three of them went to overtime. The Penguins outscored the Capitals 16-15 and outshot them 208-202.

“Obviously, it’s not what we had in mind at all,” Caps goaltender Braden Holtby said after allowing four goals on 41 shots. “It was a good season and we came up against a really good team, probably too soon. But it happens. There are a lot of what-ifs, but the biggest thing is we just didn’t do enough little things to win the series.”

Ovechkin did just about all he could, finishing the series with two goals and five assists while blasting 33 shots at Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray, who stopped 31 of them.

“I’m proud of my team, I’m proud of my teammates,” Ovechkin said. “We battled through. It doesn’t matter what happened, but in the end we lost in the second round, so it sucks.”

Ovechkin has guided the Caps to the playoffs eight times in his last nine years in Washington. He’s been escorted out of the post-season in the first round three times and in the second round five times.

“I don’t know what to say, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s a great group of guys. We lose. Obviously, I’m proud of my team.

“We tried to bounce back. We almost did. The character of this group is huge. It sucks when you lose with this team.”

At 30 years old, Ovechkin seems to recognize the fact that his time to win a Stanley Cup is growing shorter. Like many people around the NHL, he believed this would be the Capitals’ year to take the next step.

“Every year, lots of expectations,” he said. “Lots of great players,  but something we’re missing. This group of guys can do better than be in just the second round. I think we have the best goalie in the league. We have a solid group of guys on the defensive side and all four lines can play well. You can see it. We just didn’t execute when we had a chance to put the puck in the net.”

Holtby said that as good as the Capitals played in the post-season, the Penguins were better.

“We didn’t really play good enough for long enough to give ourselves the best chance,” Holtby said.

Justin Williams, who was brought to Washington to help the Caps win games like Tuesday night, agreed.

“We thoroughly thought, entering the year, this was it, we could do it,” Williams said. “Everybody believed it. But we didn’t own the big moments. The margin of error is very small in this league and they owned a big one tonight.

“It’s important for everyone to understand the margin for error is miniscule. This team has been on the losing end the last couple years. We weren’t able to get it done tonight. It’s frustrating, it hurts. We just didn’t think our season would be over tonight.”

As for Ovechkin, Williams said he gained a ton of respect for the Caps’ star-crossed captain, who finished the playoffs with five goals and seven assists in 12 games.

“Listen, I’m going to stick up for my captain,” Williams said. “He did all the right things, said all the right things. It’s certainly not on him. It’s about us as a team not being quite good enough. I thought we were going to do it and to have it end so abruptly like that, it stings.”

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3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

The Capitals got their Canadian road trip off to a good start with a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The stars came to play as Alex Ovechkin scored twice and added two assists while both John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom recorded three point nights to lead Washington.

Here are three reasons why they won the game.

John Carlson

Carlson was easily the best player on the ice for either team. He has shown tremendous offensive instincts this season and that was on display in the first period when he snuck behind the defense to receive a pass from Jakub Vrana and chipped the puck past goalie Anders Nilsson. You don’t usually see a defenseman as the first player in on an offensive play, but Carlson saw a lane and he took it to put Washington up 1-0.

The Caps’ blue liner also added two assists on the power play. This was Carlson’s fifth multi-point game and it is only the Caps’ eighth game of the season.

You can read more on Carlson’s big night here.

Evgeny Kuznetsov from the office

The Caps scored a power play goal in the second period from the office, but the shot came from the right faceoff circle, not from Ovechkin’s spot on the left.

So much of Washington’s power play is built around setting up Ovechkin on the left and that gives players like Kuznetsov a lot more room than they normally would have.

Ovechkin had the puck at the top of his office, but the Canucks had his shooting lane covered. Instead of shooting, Ovechkin fed it back to Carlson at the point. The penalty killers did not want to get drawn away from Ovechkin and just leave him over for the return pass, but that left Kuznetsov wide open in the opposite faceoff circle. Carlson fed him the puck and he did his best Ovechkin impression with the one-time goal.

Kuznetsov now has five goals on the season and all five have come on the power play.

A broken stick

Trying to slow down the NHL’s top power play is hard enough. When one penalty killer loses a stick, however, it becomes that much more difficult

Already up 3-2, the Caps got a third period power play after Troy Stecher was caught for tripping Dmitrij Jaskin. While on the power play, a shot by Carlson broke the stick of Markus Granlund.

You may not realize just how small a player becomes when he loses his stick. Most importantly for a power play, it means the penalty killer cannot stay in front of the puck to block a shot while also covering a passing lane with his stick. With no stick for Granlund, that gave Ovechkin and Carlson plenty of room to exchange passes. Carlson only had to wait for Ovechkin to get into position before setting him up for the one-timer from the office.

Ovechkin’s second goal of the night extended the Caps’ lead to two and shut the door on any possible Canucks comeback.

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It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

Whenever a player has a career year in the last year of his contract, there is always some trepidation the next season. Was he really worth all those years or all that money that come with his new deal or did he just cash in on one great season?

John Carlson got the big contract and now is silencing all the doubters with his outstanding play.

Carlson scored his fifth goal of the season Monday as he chipped in a great feed from Jakub Vrana past Vancouver Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson (see above).

He later assisted on two more goals in the contest, giving him his fifth multi-point game of the year.

On the final year of his deal in 2017-18, Carlson was brilliant with 15 goals, 53 assists and 68 points, all of which were career highs.

It’s rare to see a bonafide No. 1 defenseman hit the open market, meaning there would have been plenty of teams lining up to pay him the big bucks. The Caps never let it get that far and they re-signed Carlson to an eight-year deal worth $64 million before free agency opened. His $8 million cap hit ties him for second among all defensemen.

That’s a whole lot of money to spend on a player whose previous career high was 55 points. Carlson would not have been the first player to regress in the first year after signing a big deal and he certainly would not be the last.

For now, however, he looks like he is worth every penny.

Carlson’s 68 points last season led all defensemen and he looks like he’s on pace to shatter those numbers. His goal Monday was his 11th point on the season. It took him 15 goals to reach that mark last season and 43 games to reach five goals.

Despite a career year, Carlson was not invited to the All-Star Game, he was not a finalist for the Norris Trophy and he was not named a first or second-team All-Star at season’s end. At his current rate of play, however, he will be impossible to ignore. 

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