May 16, 2017
Sports Insider Weekly
As the final minutes ticked to seconds, the restless silence that had filled Verizon Center in the final moments of Game 7 slowly switched to the footsteps of fans filing out.
Though the Penguins celebrated their victory as soon as the buzzer sounded, for a moment the loss didn’t seem real. It couldn’t have happened again.
But it did. Another blown chance, another disappointing end to a season full of promise. The Capitals were, once again, going home just shy of the conference championship. Once again, the rival Penguins were heading there instead.
After Game 6, Washington seemed poised to compete their comeback against Pittsburgh. They looked the better team through the first six games, even with the losses. That fact made the bitter loss that much harder to swallow.
The look on the players’ faces as they skated off the ice was a mix of disbelief and disappointment. Somehow, things had gone wrong yet again. Somehow, all they had wasn’t enough.
The Caps have now advanced 9 of the last 10 years but failed to make it to the final round even once. Even with Alex Ovechkin–arguably the league’s best player–at the helm, they have not been able to make it out of the second round.
Which begs the question – where do the Caps go from here? There have been rumors that Ovechkin, frustrated with the team and annual disappointment, could be traded or even retire from the NHL to play for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), an international ice hockey league.
“Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of new faces here next year,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said, referring to salary caps and free agency.
But will a roster shakeup be enough for the Capitals to shake their playoff woes? Every year they appear to have figured out the equation to win, and every year they fall short when it matters most.
“That’s just something that unfortunately, 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,” Washington right wing T.J Oshie said.
After the Caps were eliminated, the Washington Wizards still had a chance to end D.C. sports’ 19-year conference-championship round drought. That hope was extinguished on Monday night, when they lost to the Celtics 115-105 to fall just short of a conference championship berth.
“This was tougher because it was Game 7,” John Wall said. “This one hurts more.”
Though they lost Game 5 in Boston the same night the Capitals were eliminated at home, they kept their playoff chances alive with a narrow 92-91 victory on Friday, highlighted by a last-second three-point jumper by John Wall.
The win tied the series and sent Washington up north for a decisive Game 7. They had struggled away from home throughout the playoffs, winning just once on the road. While they had been able to outlast the Hawks in Atlanta in Round 1, their chances seemed slimmer against the Celtics, who had proved a tougher opponent this series.
Washington kept the game close through the first two quarters, leading 55-53 at halftime.
They started to unravel in the second half, getting outscored 32-24 in the third quarter, despite a sensational effort by Bradley Beal. Beal ended the night with 38 points, 24 of which came in the second half. But his solo performance wasn’t enough to lift his team to victory.
While Beal was on a hot streak, Wall went cold at the worst possible time. After scoring 14 points in the first half, the star forward was just 2-of-13 in the final two quarters. He missed his last 11 attempts, at a time when a few big shots could have turned the game around.
“He looked tired,” said Boston defender Marcus Smart. “He was doing everything, he has to do everything for them, and that wears on you.”
While stars like Wall and Beal can be counted on to score points, it is usually not enough to win big games. This was evident in Monday’s loss–even to Wall himself.
“Forty-eight to five,” he said. “Our bench had five points. We needed more from our bench.”
That is something the Wizards will have to address in the off-season if they want to ever move past the second round. For now, all they, or the Capitals, or disappointed D.C. sports fans can do, is hope for a better team to give them a better chance next year.
Oh, and focus on the (first-place) Nationals.