The Washington Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Florida Panthers, losing 4-3 in overtime in Game 6 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round on Friday.
Washington (44-26-12) was the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Capitals have qualified for the playoffs for eight straight seasons and 14 times in the past 15 seasons, but have not won a series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018.
The skinnyPotential unrestricted free agents: Matt Irwin, D; Marcus Johansson, F; Michal Kempny, D; Johan Larsson, F; Justin Schultz, D, Pheonix Copley, G
Potential restricted free agents: Ilya Samsonov, G; Vitek Vanecek, G
Potential 2022 Draft picks: 6
Here are five reasons the Capitals were eliminated:
1. Missed opportunities Washington will spend the summer lamenting losing leads in Games 4, 5 and 6. The Capitals were on the verge of a 3-1 series lead, up by a goal in Game 4, before forward Sam Reinhart scored the tying goal with 2:04 remaining in regulation and forward Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:57 into overtime to give the Panthers a 3-2 victory.
Washington shook off that defeat and jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game 5 before Florida charged back with five unanswered goals for a 5-3 victory. In Game 6, the Capitals took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 and couldn’t hold them.
To upset the Panthers, who won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL points leaders during the regular season, the Capitals couldn’t afford to give them life by not finishing those games.
2. Wilson’s injuryTom Wilson played three shifts and scored a goal in Game 1 before sustaining a lower-body injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the series. The forward’s absence left a hole in Washington’s lineup and locker room that demonstrated his value.
Wilson set NHL career-highs with 24 goals, 28 assists and 52 points in 78 regular-season games this season, playing mostly on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He was also second among their forwards with 240 hits. Although Washington outhit Florida 302-275, Wilson’s physical presence and skating, which creates room for his linemates, was missed.
3. Not enough goals from OvechkinOvechkin scored six points (one goal, five assists), including at least one point in each of the first five games, but was blanked in the deciding game. The forward’s power-play goal in Game 3 was his only goal in the series after he was fourth in the NHL with 50 goals during the regular season. Ovechkin failed to score more than one goal in the playoffs only once previously in his 17-season NHL career — when he had one goal and one assist in a seven-game loss to the New York Rangers in the 2013 conference quarterfinals.
Ovechkin might have been hindered after missing Washington’s final three regular-season games with an upper-body injury, and Wilson’s absence also might have been a contributing factor.
4. GoaltendingThe inconsistency that plagued Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov during the regular season continued in this series. Vanecek was solid in a 4-2 win in Game 1, making 30 saves, but struggled and was pulled after allowing five goals on 19 shots in a 5-2 loss in Game 2.
Samsonov was at his best in Game 3, making 29 saves in a 6-1 win, and was sharp again with 29 saves in Game 4, but his play dropped off after that. Although the Capitals didn’t help Samsonov much in Game 5, when he allowed five goals on 38 shots, he hurt their cause in Game 6, giving up four goals on 31 shots, including a questionable tying goal to forward Claude Giroux 8:18 into the third.
5. Verhaeghe’s impact There are often unexpected playoff heroes and Verhaeghe deserves credit for playing that role for Florida, which won its first playoff series since 1996. The forward was a game-time decision for Game 6 because of an undisclosed injury and scored two points (one goal, two assist), including the winning goal 2:46 into overtime. That came after he scored two goals in Game 4 and set a Panthers record with five points (two goals, three assists) in Game 5.
Verhaeghe is tied for the NHL lead among all playoff scorers with 12 points (six goals, six assists) and scored the winning goal in the final three games of the series (two in overtime) to outshine more heralded Florida players including center Aleksander Barkov (two goals, four assists), forward Jonathan Huberdeau (one goal, two assists) and Giroux (three goals, four assists). Verhaeghe scored five points (two goals, three assists) in 14 career playoff games before this postseason, including two assists in eight games with the Tampa Bay Lightning during their run to the 2020 Stanley Cup.