- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

If you ask Alex Ovechkin and George McPhee, officiating was to blame for the Washington Capitals‘ early playoff exit.

A 28-16 power-play discrepancy, including five to none in Game 6 against the New York Rangers, was enough for the captain to insinuate that the NHL had it out for the Caps.

“Not saying there was a phone call, but they wanted Game 7,” Ovechkin told Russian media as quoted by Sport-Express. “For ratings. You know, lockout, escrow, league must make profit.”

Two days after the Caps were eliminated, McPhee on Wednesday criticized referees and lamented a lack of power plays.

“I don’t think there’s a league conspiracy, but it sure didn’t feel right,” the general manager said. “Alex wasn’t wrong.”

The Caps spent much of the past couple of weeks making officials part of the story of the series. Maybe that was the problem.

“We’ve got everybody and their brother whining up there in Washington about what happened in that series, and I think that’s a big reason why they lose that series,” Rangers coach John Tortorella told reporters Wednesday at the team’s practice facility.

In the aftermath of the Caps’ sixth straight playoff appearance and sixth straight exit before the conference final, McPhee’s focus wasn’t on Henrik Lundqvist’s brilliant goaltending or Ovechkin’s lack of production. It was on the calls and lack thereof.

“We didn’t get many power plays in the series. I don’t know why. We had to kill too many penalties. I don’t know why,” McPhee said. “I didn’t think that part of the game, from the league’s standpoint, was all that good.

“I didn’t like the refereeing, but if you complain about it during the series, then you’re accused of trying to gain an edge. And if you complain about it after a series is over, then you’re whining and it’s sour grapes. So I’m not going to do that. But that is my analysis, right off the bat.”

Of course McPhee wasn’t the first to question the officiating. The first mention came before the series, when coach Adam Oates said he was “kind of surprised” to learn the Rangers were the least-penalized team in the NHL during the regular season.

When New York took six minor penalties and gave the Caps five power-plays in a Game 1 victory, Oates said his players earned them.

“We got power plays because I think, five-on-five, we created pace, we put them in situations where they were fighting an uphill battle: hooking, tripping, etc.,” he said May 4 before Game 2. “Plus it was playoffs, and, you know what, you have to be prepared to play every way.”

Six penalties against the Capitals in the first 27 minutes of Game 3 brought the attention back to officiating. Oates lamented what he thought was the “wrong call” on a penalty for too many men on the ice, and the Caps lost in part because attacking stars such as Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro couldn’t get into a rhythm.

“Just a couple of unfortunate calls, I think penalties that weren’t necessarily called in Games 1 and 2,” forward Eric Fehr said on the team’s May 7 off-day. “It’s unfortunate.”

McPhee wondered Wednesday about the slew of Game 3 penalties: “What did we do to deserve that?”

He said he addressed the situation with the NHL.

“I talked to them during the series, but at some point, you stop and they’ll referee the way they want to referee,” McPhee said.

In Game 6 on Sunday, the Rangers got five power plays and the Caps got none. Goaltender Braden Holtby said the power play to penalty kill ratio should have been more evenly matched.

“We won’t use it as an excuse,” Holtby said.

Oates took issue with what he thought was a slew foot by Derek Dorsett on defenseman Mike Green but said, “5-0 in power plays, you don’t want to complain.”

“It’s probably unprecedented in a 1-0 hockey game in this league that one team gets five power plays and the other team gets nothing,” McPhee said Wednesday. “I can’t explain that. I don’t know why it happened.”

It happened, and the Caps couldn’t help but think about it.

“You know every game’s not going to be like that,” left wing Jason Chimera said May 13, two hours before Game 7 began. “It’s not going to be 5-0 [in power plays] every time.”

Each team had two power plays in Game 7, but 5-0 was still prominent because that was the final score as the Rangers skated the Caps out of their own building. By that time, there was no room for excuses.

Two days later, as players had exit meetings with Oates and McPhee and left the team’s practice facility for the offseason, defenseman Jack Hillen acknowledged he was still “bitter.” The loss was still fresh, but penalties weren’t at the forefront of his analysis.

“I guess we just all need to be better,” Hillen said. “We got beat.”