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Gormley: This time, there is no one to blame

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Gormley: This time, there is no one to blame

NEW YORK – This time, there is no one to blame.

Oh, there are plenty of people who will point fingers at the Capitals for blowing a 3-1 series lead.

And there are plenty of people who will continue to say that Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom can’t win the big one.

But the truth is this: The New York Rangers will be facing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals because they were one shot better than the Capitals.

One shot.

That’s what separated the Rangers from the Capitals in Game 7 Wednesday night at MadisonSquareGarden.

“I don’t know what to say about this,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said after scoring the only goal in yet another crushing Game 7 defeat, his sixth with the Capitals. “It’s tough. We lost the series. We played our game but one goal decided it. They’re a great team but I think we deserved better.”

Ovechkin is right. The Caps were every bit as good as the Rangers in this series. They had eight chances to win the game in overtime, highlighted by a monster shift by Joel Ward, Jason Chimera and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist denied the every time.

“Shoulda, woulda coulda,” said Ward, who was arguably the Caps’ most effective forward in the series. “We obviously were pushing and wanted to score and wanted to win. We just didnlt get that break and they got one at the end.”

On the game-ending play, Caps center Eric Fehr, who was playing in his first game since suffering an upper body injury on April 19, lost a faceoff to Derek Stepan.

“I tried to tie up his stick and kick it back,” Fehr said. “I’m not sure where the puck went but it ended up back up top [to defenseman Dan Girardi]. It’s definitely a tough way to finish.”

MORE CAPITALS: ANOTHER HEARTBREAKER FOR WASHINGTON

Girardi’s shot from the point appeared to be blocked in front of the net, kicking to Stepan in the left circle. Stepan drilled the puck over Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, who did the splits trying to stop Girardi’s point shot.

“It hit something and it went right to [Stepan],” Holtby said. “I don’t know what I could do differently.”

Holtby stopped 37 of 39 shots. Lundqvist was one save better with 35 saves on 36 shots.

“We have a very special group and it’s unfortunate,” said Holtby, who played in 86 games this season and is now 2-3 in Game 7s. “I’m proud of everyone on our team. It’s tough to swallow but there’s no regrets in this room. I’m proud of everyone. It’s unfortunate.”

Asked if the Caps regret their inability to close out the Rangers after building a 3-1 series lead – they were 1:41 away from finishing off the Rangers in Game 5 -- Holtby refrained.

“Obviously, we had an opportunity to close it out, but all the games were close,” he said. “It could have been 3-1 the other way at that point. It was a great series and one that easily could have gone our way. But it didn’t.”

Nicklas Backstrom said the Capitals were as strong a team  as he has been on during his eight years in Washington, which makes Wedneaday night’s defeat that much more difficult.

“Everyone played the right way,” Backstrom said. “Everyone blocked shots, everyone worked hard, and that’s what you need to do in the playoffs. I think if you compare to last year, it’s a lot better. It’s obviously disappointing because you want to go further and it stops right there. It’s no fun.”

Ward,  scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, said he thought the Caps had the makings of a special team that could win it all this season, a sentiment shared by his coaches and teammates.

“It was definitely disappointing,” he said. “I thought we were going to make it a pretty good run. It wasn’t what I envisioned. We played hard right down to the end. Games were close and I thought we left it out there. We worked hard all year to be in this position and we felt good about our group. It’s just disappointing.”

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Capitals Talk hosts "Capitals On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Capitals Talk hosts "Capitals On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

With the NHL Draft just a few days away in Vancouver and after countless mock drafts, NBC Sports Washington will have you covered as the Capitals decide who to take with the 25th overall pick.

As part of NBC Sports Washington's coverage of the NHL Draft, the Capitals Talk Podcast will host 'Capitals On the Clock: Draft Night' on linear television and as a live stream on the NBC Sports MyTeams app.

Capitals Talk will sit down with Rob Carlin, Grant Paulsen, Al Koken, Michael Jenkins, J.J. Regan and Brian McNally to discuss the Capitals the 2019 Draft. They'll be joined by Zack Fisch, Manager of Media Relations & Broadcasting with the Hershey Bears, who will shed light on who's ready to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL.

The live stream will also include an NHL and Capitals Draft trivia segment which fans will be able to play along with.

And if you haven't already downloaded the MyTeams App, you can do so right now, RIGHT HERE.

Capitals Talk Podcast "Capitals on the Clock" Special

When: 8 p.m. Friday June 21

Where: NBC Sports Washington and NBC Sports MyTeams App

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Should the Caps re-sign Devante Smith-Pelly?

Should the Caps re-sign Devante Smith-Pelly?

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s debate:

Region: Capitals free agents

Should the Caps re-sign Devante Smith-Pelly?

2018-19 stats

54 games played with the Caps, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, 10:51 TOI

Playoffs: 3 games played with the Caps, no goals, no assists, no points, 9:47 TOI

Hockey-Graph contract projections

2 years, $1,170,523 cap hit

The case for re-signing

There is no question that Smith-Pelly can be inconsistent, but he always seems to bring it in the playoffs. Before his seven-goal performance in the 2018 Cup run, Smith-Pelly was brilliant with the Anaheim Ducks scoring five goals in 12 games back in 2014.

With Carl Hagelin re-signed and players like Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos and other depth pieces still on the horizon, affordability is pretty much the biggest asset for any free agent available to Washington and it won’t get much more affordable than Smith-Pelly.

Hockey-Graphs can be spot on with some of its projections and outright wrong for others and this case is definitely the latter. Smith-Pelly’s contract for the 2018-19 season was a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1 million. After scoring just eight points and getting demoted to the AHL, there is no way he walks into next season with a two-year deal and a raise. The cap hit is going to be low for Smith-Pelly and that makes him a very attractive choice for the Caps.

Sure, regular season production is an issue, but if you can get a bonafide playoff performer for $1 million or less, that’s a good deal.

The case against re-signing

When the Caps needed to send a player to the minors to free up cap space for Nick Jensen at the trade deadline, the team elected to send Smith-Pelly to Hershey over Dmitrij Jaskin. Jaskin played 37 games last season. That is pretty much all you need to know.

Sure, Smith-Pelly walked into the playoffs and performed well, but he still did not produce. Depth offense is a weakness for the Caps and one they will struggle to address with the little amount of cap space left. You cannot waste that remaining cap space on a player who is going to give you eight points.

Smith-Pelly came into the season in questionable shape, was so ineffective he was sent to the minors and this from a guy who has already bounced around the NHL and who came to Washington after getting bought out by the New Jersey Devils.

On breakdown day, general manager Brian MacLellan said of Smith-Pelly, “Internally we had a couple of issues we had to work through.”

There are just too many red flags here for a Smith-Pelly return.

Who’s your pick? Vote here. 

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