- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2017

The air in the Capitals locker room was typically pungent Wednesday night, contaminated by a season’s worth of sweat-soaked gear as the players shed their pads for the final time this spring. It was quiet, but there was one phrase repeated over and over again: “I don’t know.”

“I mean, we didn’t have our best effort. I don’t know. I don’t really know what to say about it right now,” goaltender Braden Holtby said.

The pain of losing, 2-0 in Game 7 to the Penguins, was compounded by the lack of any explanation for it.

“There’s obviously just disappointment. It hurts. There’s no other words to really explain it. I didn’t think we’d be in this situation the way we were playing,” forward Jay Beagle said. “It sucks.”

He couldn’t figure how Washington’s depth, one of many factors that carried the Capitals to a second-consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, hadn’t shone through in the playoffs.

“It’s just extreme disappointment,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “There are times when you know you’re not the best team in the playoffs. But we honestly thought we were the best team in the playoffs, and showed flashes of it. But when you don’t even get past the second round, it’s extreme disappointment.”

So then what? What is it? Why, with a generational talent in Alex Ovechkin have the Capitals never gotten past the second round? Is it the weight of their history? The pressure of past disappointments?

“Honestly, I don’t think so, but it’s hard to say,” Alzner said. “Maybe something deep down guys feel. But it’s always a new team. It shouldn’t have made a difference.”

Coach Barry Trotz felt that the trouble may not have been in Game 7, but in Games 1 and 2, which the Capitals lost at home.

“We dug ourselves a hole early in the series,” Trotz said.

The Capitals dug themselves out of that hole, though and, with both teams facing elimination on Wednesday, others couldn’t understand why the Penguins came out with more resolve.

“I’m sure when I reflect on it, when we reflect on it it will maybe be a little bit more clear but if anything I felt like us digging ourselves out of that hole really brought us together and I think brought the best out of us until tonight,” forward T.J. Oshie said.

How did the Penguins score two more goals in the series while getting outshot 226-161?

“It’s hard to say right now,” Ovechkin said, asked if the Penguins had more urgency.

Was it Ovechkin himself? He was moved to the third line with the Capitals down 3-1, a move that seemed to work. He scored two goals this series. His numbers, historically, do not match his reputation as a player who has not performed well outside of the regular season but, in his 12 years on the team, the Capitals have never made the third round. Whether he deserves it or not, he will take some of the blame.

“Emotionally I don’t think I want to answer that question right now,” Trotz said.

It’s to Washington’s credit that these are such difficult questions to answer. Without the team’s unparalleled run of regular-season success, they would not be asked. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating to make an early spring exit yet again and not know why.

“For me in my career and for a lot of these guys, you almost wonder how much disappointment you’ve got to put yourself through before you can find a way to get the job done,” Oshie said.

For over a decade, through three presidential administrations, for 364 consecutive sellouts at Verizon Center, that has been the question. Still, it remains unanswered.

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