- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Washington Capitals lost their fifth Game 7 in franchise history last night, a 3-2 overtime defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers before a passionate and heartbroken crowd at Verizon Center.

Fans will wake up this morning wondering what might have been if goaltender interference had been called when Philadelphia’s Patrick Thoresen drove into Washington’s Shaone Morrisonn near the Capitals’ goal, knocking goalie Cristobal Huet out of the net. That allowed Sami Kapanen to score an easy goal, putting the Flyers on top 2-1.

They will think of how sweet it would have been to do this all over again in another round, this time against the hated Penguins and superstar Sidney Crosby.

They will think of how exhilarating it was to be at Verizon Center with the crowd on its feet, roaring as if it was RFK Stadium in January 1983, chanting “M-V-P, M-V-P” when Alex Ovechkin tied the game 2-2.

They will think about how far this team had come, winning 11 of its last 12 just to make the playoffs and sending this series into overtime in Game 7 after being down three games to one.

They didn’t want it to end.

But it didn’t end, not really. The Capitals’ success was just interrupted.

Never has the future of hockey in the District looked more promising after such a heartbreaking loss than it does today. It may not make Capitals fans feel good today or tomorrow, but soon the pain will ease and be replaced by promise.

These are not the same old Capitals. This is not business as usual.

This team could dominate the NHL for years, with a stunning core of young players who grew up in this Stanley Cup quarterfinal series against a tough Philadelphia team.

The Capitals are just getting started.

“Even though people were disappointed in the outcome of the game, they were not disappointed in Caps hockey,” owner Ted Leonsis said. “The vibe is so positive right now, as it should be. This is a young, beautiful team that only has unlimited upside. We can keep this team together. That has been the goal, and this team is worthy of being kept together. I would expect us to be better next year.”

It has been written and repeated numerous times throughout the season, but it bears writing and repeating again to help the healing process following last night’s loss:

Alex Ovechkin is 22 years old.

Alexander Semin is 24.

Mike Green is 22.

Nicklas Backstrom is 20.

“We have a great team,” Ovechkin said after the loss.

It was Backstrom who scored the Capitals’ first goal — his fourth of the series — on a 5-on-3 power play at 5:42 to put Washington up 1-0. The Flyers came back to score on their own power play. Semin was called for hooking at 13:59, and Scott Upshall drove it in between Huet’s knees to tie the game at 1-1 at 15:38.

It looked as if the Capitals were about to fall behind early when they faced their own 5-on-3 battle near the end of the period. Sergei Fedorov was called for high-sticking at 16 minutes — a four-minute double minor penalty. Eighteen seconds later, Dave Steckel was called for hooking, setting up another 5-on-3.

But Huet and the Capitals’ defense, which included Tom Poti, Steve Eminger and Morrisonn, were brilliant in denying the Flyers a goal in that two-minute stretch that Washington was down two and then for the rest of the period when Philadelphia still had a 5-on-4 advantage. By the end of the period, the Flyers had outshot the Capitals 13-8, yet the game remained tied.

Then came the robbery at 9:47 of the second period on Kapanen’s goal when Huet was driven out of the net. Ovechkin answered six minutes later with a remarkable — is there any other word to describe an Ovechkin score? — shot that seemed to freeze Flyers goalie Martin Biron to tie the game 2-2, where it remained until Joffrey Lupul scored the game-winning overtime goal.

Fans may see some great hockey for the rest of the playoffs, but they won’t see a shot with a release as quick as Ovechkin’s was last night.

In the cold, darkness of exiting the playoffs, Capitals fans should keep that shot fresh in their memories. They will be seeing it for years to come.

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