- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mike Green said he couldn’t believe it, almost as if it wasn’t real. He wasn’t alone.

When Joffrey Lupul put home a rebound 6:06 into overtime last night, the magical run for the Washington Capitals came to an end. Players and fans alike stood in disbelief as the Philadelphia Flyers mobbed each other on the ice to celebrate a 3-2 victory in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at Verizon Center.

“Oh, it is disappointing. It is devastating,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “I don’t know what to say. I think we are all kind of stunned right now.”

After the Caps had come back from a 6-14-1 start to the season and from languishing in last place in the Eastern Conference for nearly two months to win the Southeast Division, they couldn’t quite make it all the way back from a 3-1 deficit in this series.

“Right now there is nothing we can do,” Caps forward Alex Ovechkin said. “Right now we have to relax and think about next year. We have great team. I hope lots of players stay here. It is unbelievable team.”

It was not without some controversy.

Lupul’s goal came on the power play with Caps defenseman Tom Poti in the box for tripping R.J. Umberger. Poti felt he hit the puck first, which would negate the need for a penalty.

“I don’t think the refs wanted to call a penalty, but John Erskine got away one in the same position about a minute and a half earlier,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought it was a penalty. Sometimes you sit there and go, ‘OK, it is overtime or the third period of Game 7, you let it go,’ but you can’t deny he tripped him.”

Philadelphia took a 2-1 lead at 9:47 of the second period. Sami Kapanen put the puck into an open net from below the right faceoff circle — but only after Patrick Thoresen shoved Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn into Huet to knock him out of the way.

According to a statement issued on the league’s Stanley Cup playoffs Web site, “Washington’s Shaone Morrisonn plays the puck, and Philadelphia’s Patrick Thoresen lays a legal body check on Morrisonn. No Philadelphia player makes contact with Washington goaltender Huet (Rule 69). This play is not reviewable.”

The exact situation occurred in the Caps’ second-to-last regular season game — Washington’s Tomas Fleischmann knocked Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Smaby into goalie Karri Ramo — and the officials disallowed the ensuing goal by Laich. No penalty was called on Fleischmann.

“Yeah, it’s kind of the same play,” Laich said. “It’s a tough break. They do a good job of going to the net and have been trying to do that all series. You can’t let calls like that affect you.”

Ovechkin had the answer for the Caps at 15:29. Flyers defenseman Jason Smith stepped up at the blue line to check Laich, but he was able to tip the puck into the zone, where Ovechkin was able to collect and rip a shot past Biron from just above the left faceoff circle.

He also had a great chance near the end of regulation. Ovechkin picked up an errant clearing pass in the high slot, but instead of putting it on net, he tried a slap-pass to Sergei Fedorov cutting toward the left post, but it was just out of his reach.

“I felt he was going to shoot it, but then I saw the goalie charging out of the net, and I look down, and the puck was just kind of straying by me,” Fedorov said. “It caught me a little by surprise.”

The Caps couldn’t have asked for a better start. Washington controlled the play in the opening moments, and Nicklas Backstrom gave the Caps the lead with a 5-on-3 goal 5:42 into the first period.

Scottie Upshall’s shot from the top of the left circle trickled through Caps goalie Cristobal Huet’s legs with the Flyers on the power play at 15:38 of the opening period.

The loss was an ignominious ending to a season that was a quantum leap forward for the franchise. Washington won its first division title in seven years and earned a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2003.

None of that seemed possible in November. After a surprising 3-0 start, the Caps crashed with losses in 15 of 18, costing coach Glen Hanlon his job. Enter Boudreau on Thanksgiving, and the frantic run to the playoffs began the next day with an overtime win in Philadelphia.

After 37 victories in 61 games, including 11 of the final 12 and seven straight to conclude the regular season, the Caps were the first team since the NHL expanded to 30 teams to make the postseason after being 14th in the conference at the season’s midpoint.

“I just told them they gave me the greatest year of my life, and I thanked them,” Boudreau said. “We’ll talk tomorrow. They don’t want to hear too much I couldn’t say too much at that point.”

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