RUSSELL: Stanley Cup defense ends with a thud

By 106.7 The Fan

The Caps season and defense of their Stanley Cup championship came to an end Wednesday night at Capital One Arena.

The core group which brought Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas it's greatest sports joy in 25+ years, didn't even make it to the second round this year.

A tantalizing, juicy matchup with a well-rested New York Islanders team, led by former Capitals coach Barry Trotz awaited. At least two more home games were on tap for Friday night and Sunday afternoon. 

A chance to go "back-to-back" loomed as a good possibility with top seed Tampa swept out in the first round, Pittsburgh the same and the two top seeds in the Western Conference plus the Vegas Golden Knights already done for the season.

And then a THUD!

The Capitals didn't play like defending champions, if we're being honest, for much of this series and to some degree during the regular season.

A game-winning goal by Brock McGinn off a deflection from a corner shot by former Caps winger, Justin Williams, put an end to a long, strange trip over the last two years. 

Among the mistakes by Capitals in Game 7, on home-ice (yes, again) as their season went up in smoke:

-They allowed a brutal short-handed goal to Sebastian Aho after a juicy rebound allowed by Braden Holtby. Aho was simply trying to get a puck on the net and kill time on the initial shot and save. Instead, Holtby's error gave Carolina life while down two goals and a man.

-The Caps power play unit which yielded that goal was also absolutely atrocious during an extra-man advantage in double-overtime and only managed two shots on net the entire night. 

Before the series, we wrote that the Capitals power play had to be special. At times, in the series, like Game 1 (early) and Game 5 (3-4), they were just that. Their only goal in Game 4 was at 5-on-4. For the rest of the series, they were mostly lifeless and completely ineffective.

In the seven games, they had nine complete power play chances in which they did not have a SINGLE SHOT ON GOAL. That's hard to do. That's one of the main reasons they are now done for the long summer. 

-Washington blew a 2-0 series lead, a 3-2 series lead and a 2-0 and 3-1 lead in Game 7 to a Hurricanes team that never quit. They're young and talented, with speed and transition but the Caps helped beat themselves by rarely playing with poise in critical moments. Even in a few wins. 

-Holtby also allowed a fairly soft game-tying goal to make it 3-3 as Jordan Stall raced in off the right wing and Holtby had a clear lane to see the shot and puck. 

"Myself, the group, we just weren't good enough," Holtby told reporters. "I've got to come up with more saves in order to win the series and that's pretty much the bottom line. It's not easy right now." 

-The Caps were an exhausted bunch, especially in the first overtime for whatever reason. They were guilty of many bad clears of the defensive zone and also iced the puck five different times in that 20-minute frame. They were credited with five giveaways and constantly hung Holtby out to dry. 

-Washington was out-hustled at times to loose pucks. The were out-hit 60-43 and had a total of 13 giveaways to just eight for Carolina. The Caps did block 29 shots and won the face-off battle 59 percent - 41 percent but as usual, missed the net a staggering amount of times (25). 

-Some good and plenty of bad for the Caps who somehow, almost won the game several times in each overtime period, despite not having a shot on goal for the first 10 plus minutes of the first extra period and only generating six shots on goal in the 31 plus minutes of extra hockey. 

Ultimately, they played well enough at times and they played like they were in a slumber at other times. They simply were nowhere near good enough and now it's time to re-boot and re-load.

The Stanley Cup will live forever, but this season and playoff run almost seemed dead on arrival.

Follow Chris Russell on 106.7 The Fan for the latest.