Pen­guins, Crosby ad­vance to East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal

Alex Ovechkin, Cap­i­tals come up short in Game 7 once again

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY HOWARD FENDRICH

At the end, there was mostly si­lence. A smat­ter­ing of boos, re­act­ing to cheer­ing by the op­po­nent’s sup­port­ers. Some faint ap­plause. This was the end of a se­ries, the end of a Game 7 loss — yes, yet another Game 7 loss by the Washington Cap­i­tals — and, seem­ingly, the end of an era.

An arena so rau­cous just hours ear­lier — all the red­jer­sey-clad fans shout­ing along with that colour’s men­tion dur­ing the na­tional an­them, chant­ing “Let’s go, Caps!’’ dur­ing play — was in a hush as the fi­nal sec­onds ticked away and goalie Marc-An­dre Fleury fin­ished off the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins’ 2-0 vic­tory over Washington on Wed­nes­day night to close out their East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal.

Fleury made 29 saves for his ninth career play­off shutout. The goals came from Bryan Rust in the sec­ond pe­riod, and Pa­tric Horn­qvist in the third.

It was the sec­ond year in a row that Alex Ovechkin, Nick­las Back­strom and the rest of the Cap­i­tals earned the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy for the NHL’s best reg­u­lar-sea­son record but ex­ited in the sec­ond round of the play­offs.

In­deed, Ovechkin might have com­piled more than his share of goal-scor­ing ti­tles and MVP awards, but his team has never made it past this stage. Never. Washington is now 0-7 in sec­ond-round se­ries dur­ing his ten­ure; its last visit to the con­fer­ence fi­nals came all the way back in 1998. Coach Barry Trotz also never has been to a con­fer­ence fi­nal, with Washington or with his pre­vi­ous team, Nashville.

And, no mat­ter how much they in­sist the past doesn’t mat­ter, the Cap­i­tals keep falling short of ex­pec­ta­tions in the most heart­break­ing way: Dur­ing Alex the Great’s career, they have now played in 10 Game 7s, go­ing 3-7.

This off-sea­son could mark a big shift for the fran­chise, too.

Top line right wing T.J. Oshie — who tied Ovechkin for the team lead in goals this sea­son _ and another cou­ple of for­wards, Justin Wil­liams and Daniel Win­nik, along with de­fence­men Karl Alzner and Kevin Shat­tenkirk are un­re­stricted free agents. Re­stricted free agents who are due a sig­nif­i­cant uptick in salary: cen­tre Evgeny Kuznetsov, wing An­dre Bu­rakovsky and de­fence­man Dmitry Orlov.

So while the Cap­i­tals will once again head home, and head into months of un­cer­tainty, the Pen­guins will face the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors in the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals. Pitts­burgh will host Games 1 and 2, be­fore the se­ries shifts to Canada.

The Cap­i­tals cer­tainly had their chances in Game 7. Boy, did they.

Fleury, though, was up to the task — and Washington missed the mark of­ten enough to make things eas­ier on Pitts­burgh’s goalie than maybe they should have been.

There was Ovechkin, on a pass from new line­mate Tom Wil­son, tak­ing a shot from the slot late in the sec­ond pe­riod, but see­ing the puck fly off the shaft of Fleury’s stick. The goalie smiled at his for­tune af­ter that one.

And with about a minute left in that pe­riod, there was Back­strom with a 1-on-1 op­por­tu­nity, but this shot plunked harm­lessly against the side of Fleury’s net.

Dur­ing the game’s first few min­utes, it seemed as if Washington was on a power play, main­tain­ing con­trol of the puck in its of­fen­sive zone. Then, af­ter Braden Holtby stopped Ev­geni Malkin on a 2-on-1, the Cap­i­tals ac­tu­ally did have a man ad­van­tage, be­cause the Rus­sian cen­tre was sent off for trip­ping. But that chance amounted to zilch: Washington’s vaunted power play didn’t pro­duce a sin­gle shot on goal.

AP PHOTO

Pitts­burgh Pen­guins right wing Bryan Rust (17) scores a goal past Washington Cap­i­tals goalie Braden Holtby (70) dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod of Game 7 in an NHL hockey Stan­ley Cup East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal, Wed­nes­day, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Bran­don)

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