Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson, bent double, allowed their momentum to carry them down the ice. The final horn had sounded Sunday, ending a mad scramble to find two goals that time didn’t allow for.
In a way, the Washington Capitals followed a similar path as Carlson and Backstrom’s final skates at Capital One Arena, gliding to a halt. The team had roared for much of the regular season, overcoming injuries and suspensions to earn the second seed in the East Division. But when their momentum gave out, there was little force to spur them onwards again.
The Boston Bruins beat the Capitals 3-1 on Sunday. With the 4-1 series defeat to Boston, Washington lost its third straight first-round playoff matchup since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018.
“You finish the regular season, you finish in the top five, top six — wherever we landed — there’s always those expectations to move on,” Laviolette said. “That’s the whole reason why you do it, that’s the reason why you grind through the regular season, do the best you can to get the opportunity in the playoffs. So with regard to that, it’s a disappointment. There’s no question. There’s not a person in the room that’s not disappointed.”
The Capitals fired coach Todd Reirden last summer after his poor postseason performances and brought in Laviolette, an experienced coach who won a Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
But despite finishing second in the East Division — navigating the difficulties brought on by the 56-game schedule with games against divisional foes only — Washington crashed out of the playoffs once more. And the Capitals will enter the offseason with plenty of roster considerations, chief among them the future of Alex Ovechkin, who’s set to become a free agent.
“We just lost in a playoff series,” Ovechkin said. “Let’s talk about my contract and all those stuff later on.”
The Capitals spent the better part of two days preaching the need for a short-term plan. They’d focus on Game 5 — nothing beyond — because their playoff lives depended on one game. Win Sunday night and they could plan for one more game — that’s the life of a team facing elimination.
“Shift by shift, period by period and just one game,” Laviolette said Saturday.
Washington got here after winning Game 1, overcoming an early injury to goaltender Vitek Vanecek to win in overtime. But Boston rattled off three straight wins after that, taking Game 2 and Game 3 in overtime before blowing past the Capitals in Game 4. The Bruins won 4-1, taking a commanding lead in the series.
That loss also highlighted Washington’s issues on the power play, going 1-for-7 in those situations. The Capitals struggled to enter the offensive zone, then had difficulty maintaining possession or getting shots on netminder Tuukka Rask.
After Friday’s game, Backstrom said he felt “we have to come up with something new” on the power play. Laviolette said there would be tweaks on special teams, but didn’t delve into details.
Whatever those tweaks were, though, they were minute enough not to be visible in the first period Sunday. Boston again made Washington’s zone entry a challenge, and the Capitals managed one shot on goal during their first two power plays.
A power play to begin the second period proved more fruitful in terms of chances, but the lamp never lit. Ovechkin had a shot blocked, and Evgeny Kuznetsov missed the cage entirely on an open look from the slot. Washington finished 0-for-4 on the man-advantage Sunday.
“We had a tough time just getting into the zone,” Backstrom said. “But I think if you look at tonight, we were trying to get the puck to the net a little bit more and create secondary chances.”
And shortly after those opportunities came and went, Boston’s David Pastrnak created for himself and finished off a highlight-reel goal. He deked past center Nic Dowd with a behind-the-back, between-the-legs move. Then Pastrnak skated for the crease and beat Ilya Samsonov far side.
Later in the second, Samsonov allowed a soft goal to Patrice Bergeron, who flicked a wrist shot from the high slot past Samsonov’s right blocker. The 24-year-old finished with 16 saves and an .842 save percentage, playing three straight games for the first time in his NHL career.
“I don’t think it was goaltending the reason why we’re not playing tomorrow or moving on,” Laviolette said. “I think it lurks more to the lack of production and being able to score.”
Even with a barrage on net — Washington peppered Rask with 30 shots on goal in the first and second periods compared to 13 from Boston — the Capitals didn’t truly threaten. According to Natural Stat Trick, eight of those 30 attempts were considered high-danger scoring chances, and Rask turned those aside.
That is, until the third period. Eleven seconds into the frame, Conor Sheary launched a low shot on net that deflected off Rask right back to the Capitals winger, who directed the rebound home. That gave Washington life, a path back into the contest.
But that life was snuffed out with under eight minutes to play, when Bergeron sniped a shot past Samsonov. As Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak hugged to celebrate their captain’s second tally of the night, Samsonov stared at the jumbotron, watching the replay of a dagger.
The Capitals will have plenty of time this offseason for that — watching and wondering what went wrong, how a win in Game 1 eroded so quickly to four straight losses, how they got bounced from the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.
“It’s hard to lose. Nobody wants to lose, right?” Ovechkin said. “We try do best what we can. Obviously, we can do better. It sucks. It’s a bad feeling when you know you have a pretty good team.”