- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2015

Over the better part of the past month, since the Washington Capitals made their return to the postseason after a one-year absence, players have spoken about how this year’s team is different, that it’s not one beholden to the mistakes of previous years and eras.

On Wednesday, they’ll have a chance to prove it.

The New York Rangers were able to stave off elimination once again, preventing the Capitals from advancing to their first appearance in the Eastern Conference Final in 17 years by winning, 4-3, on Sunday in Game 6 of the teams’ second-round playoff series.

That means the Capitals, who once led the series, 3-1, and had three opportunities to knock their opponent out of the postseason, have again failed to do so. On four previous occasions in which the team found itself in that situation, including in 2010, it lost all four times.

“A lot of F words,” winger Tom Wilson said. “But it’s just frustration. We thought we’d come in tonight and obviously, the goal was to knock them out and move on.”

Chris Kreider scored a pair of goals in the first period, Rick Nash and Dan Boyle each scored in the third and Henrik Lundqvist had 42 saves for the Rangers, who, unlike the Capitals, will return home with history on their side. They have won nine consecutive elimination games, a league record, all with Lundqvist in net.

Jason Chimera, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward all scored for the Capitals, while Braden Holtby had 24 saves. The three forward were put together on the second line at the start of the second period as part of coach Barry Trotz’s desire to find the right combination to rescue his team from a two-goal first-period deficit.

The loss marked the end of the Capitals‘ five-game postseason winning streak, a team record, and was the first time Washington has lost consecutive games since it lost to the Rangers on March 11 and to the Dallas Stars on March 13.

“It’s the best team in the league, so I don’t think anybody’s shocked,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik. “It took us to the third period of Game 7 to beat the Islanders, and with all due respect to them, this is a better team than the Islanders, so it’s — now we’re going to Game 7. I think anybody would take that.”

New York, known for its fast starts, quieted a crowd anxious to witness history when Kreider found the back of the net on a rush 40 seconds into the game. He blew by backpedaling defenseman Matt Niskanen, and while Niskanen managed to break up the play in the slot, Kreider stuck with it, backhanding the puck past Holtby and into the left side of the net.

That wasn’t all for Kreider, who also scored in the final minute of the period. After the Capitals‘ Troy Brouwer was sent to the penalty box for a senseless roughing call with 3.4 seconds remaining, Derek Stepan sent a faceoff winner back to Derick Brassard, who uncorked a laser from the top of the right circle that went off Holtby’s right pad, the back of defenseman John Carlson’s right skate and under Holtby’s right leg, leaving Kreider with a ripe poke-in.

It was only the second power-play goal of the series for the Rangers, with the Capitals having killed off 11 of their first 12 in the series and an astounding 25 of their first 26 during the postseason. It was also the fifth goal of the postseason for Kreider, who has scored four of them against Washington.

The Capitals‘ bounce-back attempt began 28 seconds into the second period, when Chimera scored after Kuznetsov’s deflection of Ward’s shot from the right circle. It was the start of a robust period for Washington, which peppered Lundqvist with 34 attempts.

Nash and Boyle quickly ended that in the third, and with Holtby out of the net for the final 1:42, including 48 seconds of six-on-four, the Capitals skated off the ice feeling empty. Now they will head to New York one last time, hoping to show they have learned from history and will not be defined by it.

“As I’ve said to you people, you haven’t seen our best performance yet, and we’re going to need our best performance,” Trotz said. “Game 7 — that’s the best. If you’re going to have it, why not have it there?”

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