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Washington Capitals’ playoff letdowns, year by year
Question of the Day
The Capitals’ reputation as a team that can’t get it done in the playoffs is well-established. Considering Alex Ovechkin’s, Nicklas Backstrom’s and Mike Green’s impressive postseason numbers, it’s somewhat of a mystery. Here’s a look at how each playoff exit happened, with some help from ex-coach Bruce Boudreau:
Regular-season record: 43-31-8, 94 points
Playoff seed: 3rd
When Boudreau took over for Glen Hanlon on Thanksgiving Day, the Caps were floundering. They turned things around quickly and finished the season with an 11-1 spurt to win the Southeast Division.
Facing the Philadelphia Flyers, who had one more point and were favored in the series, the Caps fell behind 3-1 before forcing Game 7 at home. Defenseman Tom Poti took a tripping penalty in overtime, and Joffrey Lupul scored the series winner on Philadelphia’s power play.
Regular-season record: 50-24-8, 108 points
Playoff seed: 2nd
Varlamov wasn’t himself late in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It was Varly’s rookie year and he played a lot of games in succession. I thought maybe after Game 4 he was looking week, but I didn’t pull him,” Boudreau said. “If I’d have pulled him after Game 4 and put Theo in, I think we would have at least had a rested Varly for 6 and 7 because Game 7 he was horrible, Game 6 was a [5-4 overtime win]. Again, he looked weak.”
He allowed four goals on 18 shots in 23 minutes as the Caps got blown out 6-2 in Game 7.
Regular-season record: 54-15-13, 121 points
Playoff seed: 1st
Capturing the Presidents’ Trophy, the Caps rolled over the rest of the NHL and were the clear favorites to win the Stanley Cup. They took a 3-1 lead on the Montreal Canadiens before a delay in getting back to Washington changed the course of the series and the franchise.
“We were on the tarmac in Montreal for a long time, we didn’t get in until 6:30 and then we were at the other terminal, so we didn’t get our cars until 7:30 after going through immigration and I was so tired I just said, ‘Let’s take the day off,’” Boudreau said. “Then everybody gets home by 8:30, they sleep till 2, they get up and eat, they’re still tired and they go back to bed. Because the next game, Game 5, we had two goals scored on us in the first six or seven minutes.”
The Caps lost Games 5, 6 and 7 as an offense that scored 46 more goals than any other team during the regular season was held to just three by Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
Regular-season record: 48-23-11, 107 points
Playoff seed: 1st
Without defensemen Tom Poti (groin) and Dennis Wideman (right leg hematoma/compartment syndrome), the Caps made quick work of the Rangers with a 4-1 series win and had five days off before Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Already down in the series, the Caps went to overtime in Game 2 at home, when defenseman Scott Hannan’s poorly timed change allowed Vincent Lecavalier to give Tampa Bay a comfortable series lead.
“Bad change, in overtime,” Boudreau said. “We lose the game. It was a dumb play. Scott Hannan’s too smart to do that. And we’re not calling him off the ice from the other side of the ice. He does that.”
Defensemen John Carlson and Mike Green suffered hip injuries along the way, forcing journeyman minor leaguer Sean Collins into the lineup for Game 4. Even if his team had managed to stave off elimination, Boudreau knew it would have been over in five or six.
“We had a week off between beating the Rangers and they had come back on a high after winning three in a row. That’s what [Lightning general manager] Stevie Yzerman told George [McPhee, the Caps’ GM] at the end of the year. He said, ‘We were on such a high and we only had a day off.’”
Regular-season record: 42-32-8, 92 points
Playoff seed: 7th
Once Boudreau was fired in November, the Caps pulled things together under coach Dale Hunter late in the season to make the playoffs and set up a showdown with the defending Cup champion Bruins. Buoyed by Braden Holtby’s stellar performance and lots of blocked shots, the Caps got to the second round thanks to Joel Ward’s Game 7 overtime goal.
They were well on their way to taking a 3-1 series lead on the Rangers when Ward took a four-minute high-sticking penalty with 22 seconds left in Game 5. As Ward sat in the box, Brad Richards beat Jay Beagle on the ensuing faceoff, and it was later revealed that the Caps center was playing with a broken left foot.
Richards scored to tie it soon after.
“Obviously Hunter put me out there to win that draw and I lost it. It wasn’t because of a broken foot,” Beagle said. “If a coach puts you out there, he’s confident in you and he puts you out there for a reason, to get a job done. I definitely will pull off that experience … going into the playoffs.”
Marc Staal scored in overtime to give the Rangers the series lead.
After winning Game 6 back home, the Caps lost 2-1 in Game 7, and Hunter two days later announced he wouldn’t be back. Meanwhile, assistant coach Adam Oates and the New Jersey Devils went on to the Stanley Cup Final.
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