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Caps, fans wonder what could have been

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Caps, fans wonder what could have been

NEW YORK – The pain was evident in the whispered voice of Alex Ovechkin.

It was evident in the long and painful handshake line, which remains one of the most poignant traditions in sport.

It was evident in the watery eyes of Joel Ward and in the heartfelt words of Troy Brouwer.

Yes, there was anger. Jason Chimera’s shattered stick, splintered on the cinderblock wall that leads to the visiting dressing room, was evidence of that.

But mostly there was disappointment, a genuine feeling that they could have and should have been preparing to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“Look at the trainers’ faces,” Brouwer said late Wednesday night in the quiet aftermath of the Capitals’ 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “They’re just as disappointed as the players are. We’re a big family in here and we do everything together. Nobody feels worse than anybody else. Nobody feels more disappointed than anybody else. We’re all in this together … and now we’re not.”

Instead of exorcising the demons of their past – a past that includes 10 blown two-game series leads – the Capitals will spend today wondering once again how they allowed a 3-1 series lead slip through their gloved fingers.

How they were 101 seconds away from finishing off the Rangers in five games and failed to close the door.

“It’s hard,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “You rarely lose in the playoffs with your heads held high because you’re so frustrated. But at the same time, it was the best team in the league all year long pretty much and we had them close to elimination for three straight games. When you look at it that way you can be somewhat happy with that, but we think we’re a pretty good team and probably would have advanced.”

While the Caps lost the series on Derek Stepan’s fortuitous overtime goal in Game 7, which came after a Dan Girardi slapshot appeared to carom off he skate of Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik, they gave the Rangers the incentive they needed when Chris Kreider scored with 1:41 remaining in Game 5 at the Garden.

“Tonight is one you remember more,” Alzner said of the Game 7 defeat. “But that other one [Game 5] is the one you kind of look back on and think what could have been.”

That is the lament of Capitals fans who know disappointment as well as a family member. In their 40-year history, the Capitals have been to the Eastern Conference Finals just twice.

They know as well as anyone in the Capitals locker room – maybe even more – the dangers of allowing a team back into the series when it has one foot in the grave.

“I told the players, ‘Leave your best game out there and if it’s good enough you’re going to win [Game 7],” Caps first-year coach Barry Trotz said, “and if it’s not good enough you can walk out of here with your heads held high.

“We had 14 incredible games in our two series. They were very hard, very intense and we were that close in Game 5 here. We almost could have closed it out. Game 6 we got off to a little bit of a poor start [trailing 2-0 in the first period] but from there I thought we saw what the Washington Capitals are all about and I think you saw what the Washington Capitals are all about [in Game 7].

“There’s not much separating two teams going nose to nose. Just inches. A team winning was an inch here or an inch there. Everybody here probably predicted seven games.”

And that’s what they got. And for the sixth time in nine tries during the Ovechkin era, the Caps were on the wrong side of that post-game handshake line.

“It’s always painful,” Trotz said. “You’re going to look back at those moments.

“I mean, in Game 5, this is how the series went. I thought their goal was on one of their weaker chances. It’s a 3-on-4 and they really don’t have a play. They throw it towards the net and I think it goes off our defenseman’s heel, changes direction and finds its way in.

“That’s sort of the way it goes sometimes. In Game 6 we gave up a goal early but you saw the character. We made giant strides in our group in this series. I kept saying to the guys all year long that you learn different things from defeat and you learn different things from winning.

“In this situation, I think you can talk history all you want. This is a new group. This is a new team. Our organization is changing. We’re going to learn from our history and look it right in the eye.

“We went after this game. There was no nervousness on our part. We went after the New York Rangers in their own barn and almost pulled it off. I said to them all year that defeat is not your undertaker, it should be your teacher. We learned a lot. We’ve got some young kids that learned a lot and we’ve got great veterans, so you’re going to see the Washington Capitals back here again.”

And when they are, the Capitals may once again promise you the result will be different. But until you see, you will not believe.

It’s the cross Capitals fans have learned to bear.

[RELATED: Tough to pin blame for Caps Game 7 loss]

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NBC Sports to nationally broadcast 18 Capitals games in 2018-19 season

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NBC Sports

NBC Sports to nationally broadcast 18 Capitals games in 2018-19 season

All eyes will be on the Caps as they begin their quest to defend their Stanley Cup title. Literally.

NBC Sports released its national broadcast schedule for the NHL regular season on Monday and coverage will begin with the Capitals' home-opener on Oct. 3 against the Boston Bruins. The nation will be able to witness Washington raising its first Stanley Cup banner to the rafters on NBCSN.

NBC Sports will present a total of 109 games in 2018-19, the most since acquiring NHL rights before 2005-06 and the Caps will be featured prominently.

Washington will appear eight times on NBCSN's Wednesday Night Hockey, the most of any team in the NHL, and four times on NHL on NBC. NBCSN will also broadcast an additional six games.

All games will be streamed live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app to authenticated users via TV Everywhere.

Here is the Capitals schedule as released by NBC Sports:

Wed. Oct. 3: Boston at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Wed. Oct. 10: Vegas at Washington, 8 p.m. on NBCSN
Wed. Oct. 17: N.Y. Rangers at Washington, 7 p.m. on NBCSN
Wed. Nov. 7: Pittsburgh at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Tues. Dec. 11: Detroit at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN*
Wed. Dec. 19: Pittsburgh at Washington, 8 p.m. on NBCSN
Fri. Dec. 21: Buffalo at Washington, 7 p.m. on NBCSN*
Tues. Jan. 8: Philadelphia at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN*
Sun. Jan. 20: Washington at Chicago, 12:30 p.m. on NBC
Wed. Jan. 23: Washington at Toronto, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Sun. Feb. 3: Boston at Washington, 12:30 p.m. on NBC
Sun. March 3: Washington at N.Y. Rangers, 12:30 p.m. on NBC
Wed. March 6: Washington at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Tues. March 12: Washington at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. on NBCSN*
Tues. March 19: Washington at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN*
Wed. March 20: Tampa Bay at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Sun. March 24: Philadelphia at Washington, 12:30 p.m. on NBC
Tues. March 26: Carolina at Washington, 7 p.m. on NBCSN*

* These games will be broadcast nationally, but will not be seen on NBCSN locally because they will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington

NBC Sports Washington remains the home of the Capitals for the 2018-19 season and will broadcast a majority of the team's games for the season including pre and postgame coverage. You can also expect extensive coverage on NBCSportsWashington.com throughout the season.

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Key Caps questions: Who will play on the team's third defensive pair?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Who will play on the team's third defensive pair?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: What will be the team's primary third defensive pairing?

Barring any PTOs or breakout performances in training camp, we can reasonably assume Brooks Orpik, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are going to be the three players battling it out to be on the third pair.

General manager Brian MacLellan went through some salary cap gymnastics to get Orpik back for next season at a much smaller cap hit, Djoos played 22 playoff games in the Caps’ Stanley Cup run and Bowey was signed to a one-way, two-year contract for $1 million per year. Clearly, all three are expected to be on the Caps’ roster next season and play a role, but that role will be limited considering the top-four is pretty much set with Michal Kempny-John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen.

Orpik will be 38 years old at the start of the season. His on and off-ice contributions are much greater than many were willing to acknowledge, but he was never a fast player and at his age, holding him to 60 games or fewer will make him a more effective player.

Djoos and Bowey are 24 and 23 respectively and, while both are ready for bigger roles, both are far from finished products. While they may be part of the future of Washington’s blue line, putting in two young, second-year players as their own pair is a risk.

But even if head coach Todd Reirden is not ready to turn the reins over to his two young defensemen just yet, he still needs to get both players plenty of playing time.

This is why Orpik may get a lot more playing time than many people think. The best thing for both Djoos and Bowey is for them to play. If you have concerns about them playing together, however, and neither is ready to supplant anyone in the top four, then you are going to see them cycle in and out of the lineup fairly frequently to play alongside Orpik.

That’s not to say we will never see a Djoos-Bowey pairing this season. They will probably have their chances and the better they look, the longer that pair will last. If they were ready, it would be a safe assumption that they would get the bulk of games together with Orpik serving more of a reserve role.

But a Djoos-Bowey pairing would be too vulnerable to opposing offenses at least at the start of the season and so we should expect a lot of Orpik.

While Reirden will work his defensive magic to bring Djoos-Bowey along as quickly as possible, I would anticipate Orpik-Djoos will see a majority of games this season as the team’s third defensive pairing.

Other key Caps questions: