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.”