As Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin held his final media availability of the season Tuesday afternoon, he did so while wearing a black Nike T-shirt. In large white type, it asked a simple question: "Where the _____ is the finish line?"
Unfortunately for Ovechkin and the Capitals, the finish line was in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where their season ended for the third time in six years after Monday's 5-0 loss to the Rangers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Fewer than 24 hours after his eighth NHL season ended with no discernable postseason success to show for it, the Capitals captain was left to explain what exactly went wrong for his team, which lost four of the final five games of the series after taking a 2-0 lead.
“I felt like this group of guys could do lots of good things this year, but unfortunately, we lost,” Ovechkin said. "Almost one guy [Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist] beat us. Of course they have a good team, they have great players, a great defensive team, but the goalie out there was unbelievable. It was like he was best in the league.”
While Ovechkin claimed that Lundqvist, who shut out the Capitals in back-to-back games to close out the series, was the primary reason for their demise, he later said that "one guy can’t win the championship" in almost contradictory fashion.
Despite that, Ovechkin, a two-time Hart Trophy recipient as NHL MVP -- a distinction he is nominated for again this season -- is the engine that drives the Capitals, and after carrying them into the postseason during his torrid second half of the season and finishing with a league-leading 32 goals, he only scored once in seven games. His five-game scoreless drought to end the series was the longest of his postseason career.
When asked about his struggles, Ovechkin avoided putting the onus on himself.
"In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if you score or not," Ovechkin said. "You have to win. Team success is most important thing out there. In seven games, I have two points and we still lose. What’s the reason? I didn’t score and we lose. I score we lose. It’s kind of position where everybody have to make a difference.”
Ovechkin has now lost six of the nine playoff series that he has participated in, including five losses in seven Game 7s, four of which have come at Verizon Center. He can earn as many individual awards as possible, but he recognizes that he ultimately will be judged by more than his personal accolades.
“Winning give you everything," Ovechkin said. "Nobody remember losers. Everybody remember only winners.”
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