Alex Ovechkin: "It was a tough series"
This year was supposed to be different.
This year the Capitals were the team no one wanted to face in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Their captain was on a mission, scoring 23 goals in his final 23 games to win the goal-scoring title.
Their passing was precise, their goaltending solid. Aside from Brooks Laich, they were healthy, and they were well-coached.
“Going into the playoffs it was one of the most confident feelings I’ve had in hockey,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said.
“You talk about riding a high and we were as high as we could be. Guys were scoring and feeling good out there and I thought we had the perfect makeup to go. I was wrong. You go back to the drawing board and start asking more questions.”
Like how could the Capitals blow a 2-0 series lead by allowing eight goals in back-to-back losses in New York?
And how could they push the Rangers to the brink of elimination by winning Game 5 at home, then get pushed out of the playoffs by losing Games 6 and 7 without even scoring a goal?
“It’s tough no matter what,” said an emotionally distraught Mike Green, the stench of a 5-0 Game 7 loss still around him. “I think we absolutely outplayed them at times, I think the majority of the time.
“To be in the position we’re in now is really frustrating and tough to swallow. It really is.”
Since returning to the playoffs in 2008, the Capitals have won five Southeast Division titles in six years, but they have lost six of their nine playoff series, including five of the seven that have gone the distance.
“It’s the same terrible feeling,” Alzner said. “It’s one of those things where guys’ careers get measured. Look what people said about LeBron James up until [winning an NBA championship] last year. You judge a player by wins. That’s the only way I measure my career and I would imagine a lot of guys are the exact same way.”
These Capitals are no longer the Young Guns of the NHL. Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer and Green will be 28 at the start of next season. Joel Ward and Matt Hendricks will be 32. Jason Chimera, 34.
Alzner will be 25 but even he seems to know that opportunity doesn’t always keep knocking until you let it in.
“Mike Knuble told us that the next thing you know you’re in your last couple years and you haven’t made it to the Finals yet,” Alzner said. “We all had a really good feeling about this team. I guess it goes to show you how quickly things can change.”
The Capitals may have more dominant teams than this year’s lockout-shortened edition. After all, they racked up three straight 100-plus point season from 2009 through 2011. But Green agreed with Alzner, saying he thought this team, under first-year head coach Adam Oates, had the best chance to win the Stanley Cup.
“Absolutely, I would agree with that a hundred percent,” Green said. “This is the best team – team-wise – that we’ve been on. We had the depth, we had the coaching, the structure, the system.
“And then … things happen during series that seem, for whatever reason, at the wrong time happen to us. It’s no reflection on the guys in the dressing room or how bad we want it. It’s a hard thing. The depth of the guys throughout the lineup is not a reflection of how it should end, that’s for sure.”
So how will the Capitals walk away from the 2013 season? Brouwer provided an interesting perspective.
“The journey from this whole season has been a good one,” Brouwer said. “After 11 games [2-8-1] we weren’t exactly in a very good position to be in the playoffs or even compete for a Stanley Cup.
“To get into the playoffs, and not only that but get home ice advantage, it’s been a good journey for this hockey team. There’s a lot of character in here and a lot of resilience. It’s just a shame it ended the way it did “