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Why did the Washington Capitals fail in game seven?

Why did the Washington Capitals fail in game seven? There are plenty of reasons to diagram and explain from blown plays, poor decisions, inaccurate shots, and game planning to name some of the reasons. The loss has another aspect that can be traced back to game one, and this is where I will show one element of failure.

The Washington Capitals were designed around Alexander Ovechkin with the goal of defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins. Defeating the Pens would guarantee the defeat of the Blackhawks as well as the Bruins, Rangers, and even the Lightning. It was the Penguins that was on the minds of management. The team the Caps built was ready to defeat 2012, 2013, and the 2014 teams. What they didn’t recognize was the Penguins changed with Coach Sullivan. In the off-season, the made adjustments to deal with the Pens. Round two, the true conference final happened.

Expecting to deal with the injury-depleted Penguins, the Capitals entered game one with confidence and a secret; Ovie was likely injured and not at 100%. Outplaying the Penguins in game one and two, one would think the home advantage would guarantee victory, however, the Penguins won. Psychologically, this was destructive to the favored team as they lost even though they outplayed their opponent. For management, a 1-8 record was looming in their mind.

Game three began with a gift from Matt Niskanen as he knocked Sidney Crosby out of two games. This third game began as a gift and victory when the Caps grabbed a 2-0 lead late into the third period. Their positive outlook was quickly crushed in the last two minutes of the game as the Penguins tied the Capitals and sent the game into overtime. A costly mistake by Trevor Daley gave the Capitals the win as he was penalized for holding and Shattenkirk capitalized on it. This was a false victory as the Caps were lucky to come away with a win even as they dominated the Pens at times. It was a victory without Crosby and Sheary. It would have served the Capitals had the overtime extended into a second overtime.

After three games, the Capitals mental state was fragile at best. They had lost two games at home and barely beat the Pens in game 3. Game four would haunt the psyche of the Caps as they lost to a Crosby-less Pens squad. Game 4 should have been a complete Capitals victory, but they fell short as they lost 3-2. This game had damaged the confidence of the Caps, and they really never recovered. The Penguins, on the other hand, had a confidence as seen by Kunitz and his response coming off of the ice after game 4.

After game 4, the Penguins were confident they didn’t have to put much effort into winning. They had been living off of Fleury and their opportunities. For the Caps, they were uneasy and lacked a confidence as evidenced by a players-only meeting during the series. A players-only meeting never bodes well for a team. Their “nothing to lose” attitude had little effect until late in game 5. There were issues and going into game 5, the Caps for two periods displayed their discomfort even though the pushed the Penguins.

The third period of game 5 changed when the Penguins, reliant on minimal effort, surrendered three goals in the third and lost to the Caps 4-2. For once, the Capitals with “nothing to lose” began to gain confidence, but this was a false confidence. Nevertheless, the Caps were going to Pittsburgh with the attitude that they go only go up.

Game 6 was a blowout and the Penguins provided a flat opponent to boost the Capitals confidence. What should have solidified a team did little to boost them. It is at this point the exhaustion and injuries began to take its toll on the Caps. Ovie was getting worse as the series continued, and the Pens really hadn’t rolled over. The Caps needed a big start in game 7 while the Pens needed to reflect on why they had blown two potential series-ending games. As evidenced by Pens defenseman, Ian Cole stated, “ I think it leads to a lot of excitement knowing that, hey, we’re getting the job done and we’re not even playing our best hockey. We have a lot more ahead of us. We can put together a way better team game.”

Game 7 had two issues at hand. The leadership of the Penguins needed to get their team in gear and want the game while Capitals needed to seize the game and not hold back. What happened was the worst cast scenario for the Caps. The Caps appeared to expect a more passive and beaten Penguins team, but this was not the case. All that was needed was a goal by the Caps and they could solidify their confidence and get the Pens off of their game. It was at this point that two events that solidified the defeat of the Capitals. The first was Fleury’s strong play in the first period thus preventing any scoring by the Capitals. The second was not just Rust’s goal in the second but the Penguins carrying a 1-0 lead into the third. These two crushed what desire there was within the Capital psyche. This is seen with the Capitals play in the third period. Their energy was spent and desire to win gone while the Penguins grew stronger in their play. Their second goal of the game ended for all.

The goal indicated to the Capitals players that the first four games were no fluke but games 5 and 6 were. This psychological effect contributed to mistakes and reduced effort. The lack of leadership, another factor, could not overcome the feeling of defeatism. Injuries have a drastic affect on a player’s desire to continue to play while taking punishment. An injury to Ovie may have reduced his desire to go the extra mile. Other players may have felt some type of physical pain that prevented the necessary effort needed, thus, contributing to the psychological effect.

This doesn’t provide a complete analysis of the Capitals’ defeat. This is only one factor that contributed to their defeat. Mistakes, skill, and even exhaustion play a part in a team’s defeat. Factor in the opponent and you have a complex reason for the defeat of the Capitals. It is far less likely that it was Ovechkin’s fault or Trotz’s gameplan or even the GM’s design of the team. There are plenty of components to cause a team’s downfall, but blaming it on one particular reason is the wrong analysis.

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