As the final seconds ticked away on the clock Saturday night, it became clear that there would be no miracle on 33rd Street for the Washington Capitals.
And when the final horn sounded and the red, white and blue streamers fell from the rafters at Madison Square Garden, the Capitals' season had finally ended with a 2-1 loss in Game 7 to the New York Rangers.
Sure, the Capitals had made it farther than nearly anyone could have predicted, and they battled hard for the entire seven-game series against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But it was still a bittersweet ending to an amazing season.
"We matched up tooth and nail against them and we just came up short," coach Dale Hunter said.
Hunter's group can be proud of what they accomplished, however. And there's plenty to look forward to next season.
The Caps and their fans, however, won't want to look back on this Game 7 loss -- one that was highlighted by save after save after save by all-world Rangers' netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
Washington got just one goal by him all game -- a fluttering wrist shot from Roman Hamrlik -- but that wasn't for lack of effort.
Hamrlik's seeing-eye shot got the Caps back to within one goal just 38 seconds after the Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the third period.
The Capitals raced into the Rangers' end and the puck ended up on the stick of Brooks Laich, who pulled up and found Hamrlik alone trailing the play. Hamrlik saw a screen by Troy Brouwer in front, so he just sent a weak wrister on net that went end over end past the screened Lundqvist high stick side.
"I liked the way we battled," Hunter said. "No one likes to lose, but we didn't give up right to the end. They went up 2-0 and we got one back."
After the Rangers got the first goal of the game 1:32 into the first period, they extended the lead in the third period on a nice play by Michael Del Zotto.
Del Zotto first took out Alex Ovechkin along the left-wing boards in the Rangers' zone, and then started the play the other way. Eventually Marian Gaborik crossed the blue line one-on-three. His shot was blocked by Laich, but Del Zotto hustled to follow up on the play and wristed the puck past Braden Holtby from between the circles.
The Rangers opened the scoring early in the first as a dump-and-chase by New York worked to perfection. Carl Hagelin chased the puck deep into the Caps' zone, skated behind the Washington net and send a nifty backhand pass to Brad Richards in the left circle. Richards wasted no time by one-timing the pass on net. Holtby, who may have been screened by Gaborik in front, had the puck go under his outstretched glove and into the net.
That early goal easily could have deflated the Caps' spirits, but they continued on their quest for the tying goal the next two periods.
It looked like a shooting range at times in the second period, and the target was Lundqvist.
Unfortunately for the Caps, they hit the mark every time as Lundqvist turned aside scoring chance after scoring chance by the desperate Capitals' offense.
Alex Semin had a great chance in tight on Lundqvist after a sweet touch pass by Nicklas Backstrom set him free. But Lundqvist was up to the task, sending the puck into the corner and sending Semin down to the ice.
A few minutes later Mike Knuble had a point-blank chance at the left post, but Lundqvist made the save with his right pad.
There was even a period of time where it looked like the Capitals had a power play in the Rangers' zone, but it was just tremendous pressure by Washington 5-on-5. Hamrlik and Mike Green showed patience working the puck back and forth at the point, getting the Rangers' wingers out of position and then sending the puck on net. Brouwer had several great chances in tight during that particular shift, but once again Lundqvist proved to be the final line of defense.
"Our guys played hard. They gave it everything they got," Laich said. "At the end of the day that's all you can do."
Lundqvist, indeed, was the difference in this game. That's not to say that Holtby wasn't as good at the other end. He continued his masterful play between the pipes all night long, giving his team a chance to win the game at the other end.
And it is the play of Holtby that has to have Caps' fans excited about what is to come next year. Sure, the Game 7 loss will sting, but there's still a bright future in Washington with Holtby in net. There will be plenty of changes among the forwards and defensemen as the club looks to continue the transition away from a run-and-gun offense to a defense-first philosophy -- one that may or may not include Hunter and some talented wingers like Semin.
But with a core group of Ovechkin, Backstrom, John Carlson and Holtby, there will still be plenty to cheer about for years to come.