The scars of past postseason disappointments that line the skin of the Washington Capitals barely have enough time to fade before another open wound forms and begins to fester.
No matter how many times the Capitals rise only to fall again, the salt within the sweat that drips from their tattered bodies doesn't burn those wounds any less. Yet another winner-take-all Game 7 went disastrously wrong, and all that will remain from Monday's season-ending 5-0 loss to the New York Rangers -- tied for the largest Game 7 margin of victory by a road team in NHL history -- will be another blemish to remind them of what could have been.
"What we went through this year," a dumbfounded Matt Hendricks began. "The adversity that we went through where we started our climb from the bottom of the barrel and to be one of the hottest teams in the league -- if not the hottest team in the league the last month, month and a half of the season -- we had high hopes for this group. Execution. We didn’t get it done."
"We had high hopes for this group. . . . We didn't get it done."
That statement has become an unfortunate tagline and almost an expectation in Washington.
As the Rangers continued to pile on, turning an incredibly tight series that featured five one-goal decisions (and an even tighter postseason rivalry considering 18 of the teams' 25 games since 2009 prior to Monday were decided by the slimmest of margins) into an absolute laugher, Verizon Center went numb. Fans didn't know how to feel because they simply felt nothing. They'd been desensitized to heartbreak.
Deep within the bowels of the arena, the Capitals were at a loss for words. Blank, bewildered faces filled the corners of their locker room, no one really sure what to think or how to put that confusion into words.
"It's the same thing as previous years, I would say," said Nicklas Backstrom, who has now been a part of five Game 7 losses since 2008, four of which came at home. "We came back regular season, then playoff[s] came and we're not good enough.
"It feels like deja vu. It happened before. It's a bad feeling right there."
It feels like deja vu because it is. The characters may change, but the story remains the same. The Capitals entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs with heightened expectations and played the part they were supposed to -- a favorite -- only to be felled by a hot goaltender and crushed under the weight of mounting pressure and "What Ifs."
With a 2-0 series lead for the tenth time in franchise history, the Capitals lost such a lead and subsequently the series for the sixth time. That seems almost impossible.
Alex Ovechkin, who finished the season on a 23-goals-in-23 games stretch, failed to register an even-strength point in seven games and was held off the scoresheet in the final five games, the longest pointless drought of his postseason career. That seems almost impossible.
The fifth-highest scoring offense in the NHL, one that was shut out just once in 48 games, failed to score a goal in the final 120 minutes of the series as Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 62 shots hs faced in Games 6 and 7. That seems almost impossible.
The league's best power play in almost 25 years was held off the ice (though officiating was a point of contention throughout the series) and neutralized, only scoring three times in 16 opportunities. It's not as startling as the 1-for-33 slump that the Capitals endured during their 2010 seven-game series loss to the Montreal Canadiens, but that also seems almost impossible.
"Seems," however, is the operative word. At this point, nothing seems impossible for the Capitals. Or does nothing seem possible?
Playoff losses come and go, but the doubt that could very well permeate and infest the Capitals' collective psyche could cause everlasting damage to an already fragile team, and it seems that such thoughts have begun to creep in.
"A little bit," Karl Alzner said when asked if he questioned whether the Capitals will ever get over the hump after yet another dubious loss. "I don’t know if that’s the right mentality. I’m sure it’s not the right mentality, but we all play this game to win and when you see one year after another year disappointments -- and I know it’s only been three playoffs for me -- still from the guys that have played the game, [former Capital] Mike Knuble, one of the guys, would tell us that you blink and the next thing you know you’re in [the] last couple of years and you haven’t made it to the finals even.
"You don’t want to see the time tick away. You want to at least get a taste of it before you’re done. So I hopefully have a long time. But, yeah, I’ve thought about it."
Time is working against the Capitals. Their "Young Guns" are greying, fans are getting restless and the often-mentioned window for this team as currently constructed is continuing to close.
Yet another year has ended for the Capitals without their names etched into the Stanley Cup, but another fresh scar has formed to add to the ever-growing collection.
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