WASHINGTON, D.C. — After having just minutes to take in a season-ending loss in front of the home crowd in Game 6, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom tried to put into words what went wrong against the Florida Panthers.
While he didn’t beat around the bush, there wasn’t much to offer in terms of an explanation, aside from the obvious: the Capitals missed out on several opportunities to get it done.
“It’s been every game… I think we basically gave the series to them,” Backstrom said bluntly.
Prior to being pushed to the brink, Washington was on the verge of taking command of the first round on several occasions.
Back in Game 4, the Capitals held a 2-1 third-period lead, and in the final minutes, a missed empty net led to a late goal against to force overtime. There, the Panthers evened the series and robbed Washington of a 3-1 series lead going back to Sunrise. Then in Game 5, the Capitals were cruising in the second period with a 3-0 lead and appeared ready to return home with a chance to advance, but they stepped off the gas and gave up five unanswered goals, leading them to return home trailing.
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Then of course in Game 6, Washington blew two leads and ended up trailing in the final minutes, and though T.J. Oshie led the charge again and force OT, Carter Verhaeghe put the nail in the coffin after a turnover in the offensive zone.
“When we got the lead, we don’t have to give them empty spots, give them the chance,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Especially when they put the puck deep, we have to play much harder in the D-zone. Again, mistakes from everybody. Not want to blame someone, it’s us. All 20 guys who are out there have to be more responsible… We have it, but we just blow it away… it’s on everybody. Kind of fucked up situation.”
“That’s obviously part of the things that you’ve got to do to be successful in the playoffs,” Backstrom added. “You have to shut down teams. I don’t know what else to say. It’s obviously on us. It’s disappointing.”
The blown leads and three straight losses led to the team’s fourth straight first-round exit. The last time the group won a playoff series was when it hoisted the Stanley Cup back in 2018. When it comes to a reason why, the Capitals didn’t have much time to reflect right after the defeat. However, T.J. Oshie offered some insight, saying it goes beyond the on-ice effort.
“It’s been different… the game was in our hands. So that comes down to just finding a way to get the job done in the other games. The last couple of years, we’ve been down, and teams have kind of had their way with us a little bit,” Oshie said. “I don’t think the all-in aspect was quite there in the last couple years. This year, I think we were extremely close to being 100 percent everyone on board. And we let three games get away from us.”