- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kevin Shattenkirk hasn’t been in Washington long. But since being traded from St. Louis in February, the Capitals defenseman has noticed just how haunted D.C. fans are.

“The first two series so far, it seems like everyone is holding their breath,” Shattenkirk said. “Everyone’s more scared than excited.”

On Wednesday night, Shattenkirk got his own taste of the torment that is Washington Capitals postseason hockey, as he and his teammates fell before a sellout crowd at the Verizon Center 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins — the same squad that kicked them out of the playoffs a year earlier.

Prior to the game, Shattenkirk said the Capitals had to be near perfect to beat the Penguins. They were anything but.

The Capitals who’ve felt this same sting before struggled to put another season-ending loss into perspective. 

“That’s just something unfortunately, for me in my career and for a lot of these guys, you have to wonder how much disappointment you’ve got to put yourself through before you can get the job done,” T.J. Oshie said.

It turned out to be one more goal than needed, but the Penguins locked up the 2-0 win when Patric Hornqvist caught Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby by surprise with a backhanded puck to the top of the net with 15:46 left in the third. 

The Verizon Center crowd sat stunned.

After a scoreless first, Penguins forward Bryan Rust put the Penguins up a goal with 11:11 left in the second period. The Capitals turned the puck over and the Penguins worked it around until Rust got the perfect angle to beat Holtby.

The Capitals couldn’t rally. They constantly mistimed passes and were hesitant to shoot. Unlike other games, the Capitals only finished with one more shot on goal, edging the Penguins 29-28 in that category.

“I thought once they got their second goal, they locked it down,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “They had a lot of energy on the bench. At that point, we sort of didn’t have the structure and those things to get back in.”

Washington opened the game in a very similar method to Game 6, which resulted in a 5-2 win. They spent almost the entire first four minutes in their offensive zone, working the puck and getting chances.

The Capitals had their first power play chance at 5:47 when Penguins center Evgeni Malkin committed a tripping penalty moments after he failed to score on a 2-on-1.

But the Capitals failed to score and the Penguins actually ended the period with more shots on goal, 10-8.

The Capitals entered with a 3-6 record in previous Game 7s in the Alex Ovechkin era. Under Trotz, Washington was 1-1, both of those games coming in 2015. The Capitals lost to the New York Rangers 2-1 in overtime in their last Game 7.

Justin Williams, who earned his “Mr. Game 7” nickname by coming up big over his 16-year career in deciding games, had his first Game 7 with the Capitals. He went scoreless and suffered his first Game 7 defeat.

Trotz called Game 7 an opportunity. The Capitals were able to climb out of a 3-1 hole in the series because of strong performances in Game 5 and 6. Like other games in this series, Washington controlled the puck. However, they cut down on the mental mistakes and were more patient when taking shots.

Instead, mental mistakes cost them again.

“It’s unfortunate,” Oshie said. “Games like these, myself, [Nicklas Backstrom], [Ovechkin], [Evgeny Kuznetsov], we have to find ways to put the puck in the net. Big moments, your big players have to play big. Regrettably, I don’t think we did that tonight.”

The Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the Ottawa Senators, who closed out the New York Rangers in six games on Tuesday.

For the Capitals, they now face an offseason of major questions, primarily: How much of their core can actually get them to a championship level.

The Capitals last made the conference finals in 1998.

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