ARLINGTON, Va. - As the Washington Capitals gathered at their practice facility Wednesday for exit meetings and the annual explanations about what went wrong in the playoffs, there were references to bad luck and bad bounces in their first-round elimination against the New York Rangers.
"If you're asking me if there's one specific thing, I don't know," defenceman Mike Green said, two days after Washington's 5-0 home loss in Game 7. "Does anybody know? Do you know?"
There were blank looks, head shakes and shrugs in response to reporters' questions about whether there is a pattern to the six consecutive years of first- or second-round exits.
There was very little desire among players, general manager George McPhee or coach Adam Oates to openly criticize themselves or teammates—or look inside the organization for what could be improved.
"We need to take the next step," centre Nicklas Backstrom said. "I don't really have a good answer for ... how."
McPhee offered a reason for the way his team collapsed against New York after leading the series 2-0 and 3-2: officiating.
"We didn't get many power plays in the series. I don't know why. We had to kill too many penalties. I don't know why. I didn't think that part of the game, from the league's standpoint, was all that good," McPhee said. "I didn't like the refereeing."
He also said the way calls went "sure didn't feel right."
The Rangers—the NHL's least-penalized team during the regular season—wound up getting sent to the box for a total of 16 Capitals power plays. The Rangers, meanwhile, got 28 power plays in the series. In Game 6, which New York won 1-0, the Rangers had a 5-0 edge in extra-man chances.
McPhee was asked about captain Alex Ovechkin's comments to a Russian reporter after Game 7 on Monday night about the NHL wanting the series to last seven games.
"I don't think there's a league conspiracy, but it sure didn't feel right. And Alex wasn't wrong," McPhee said, noting that he talked to the league during the series, but "they'll referee the way they want to referee."
There were other mentions Wednesday of officiating. Both McPhee and coach Adam Oates made reference to a half-dozen penalties called against Washington in the first 1 1/2 periods of Game 3, which New York wound up winning 4-3 at home.
"I loved the way we started in Game 3. We were up 1-0. And then things changed," McPhee said. "I don't know why there were six penalties in the first 30 minutes of that game. I don't know why. What did we do to deserve that?"
Said Capitals forward Eric Fehr: "I have a few thoughts in my head, but they're not very good ones, so I'm not going to say them. Game 3 was really tough for us. If you look at it, we got a lot of penalties called against us, and I don't think they were all deserved."
In the context of telling reporters in New York on Wednesday how his own players "go about our business" in the post-season, Rangers coach John Tortorella took at a verbal shot at the Capitals.
"We get everybody and their brother whining out there in Washington about what happened in that series," Tortorella said, "and I think that's a big reason why they lose that series."
That's more than a lot of Capitals were willing to venture as to why their season is already over.
What they do seem to believe—or say they do, at least—is that major changes aren't needed. McPhee indicated there won't be much different about the roster next season.
"The window hasn't closed," forward Brooks Laich said. "We aren't one year away from this being our last shot at it."
Notes: Oates was OK with Ovechkin skipping breakdown day and leaving town to join Russia at the world championships, an important event for players from that country. But Oates also said: "I never played in it and I hated it. It's the stupidest thing in the world. You lose here, and tomorrow they want you to go play in some tournament. For the Canadian and American guys, it doesn't make sense. But for the European guys, I understand it." ... RW Martin Erat, sidelined for the rest of the series after getting an undisclosed injury in Game 4, said he dislocated his left elbow. ... Laich thinks he would have returned from what he called a "minor procedure" on his groin if Washington reached the second round. He only played nine games during the regular season. ... 33-year-old C Mike Ribeiro, an unrestricted free agent this off-season, said he wants a four- or five-year contract. ... C Matt Hendricks, also an unrestricted free agent, said there were negotiations on a new deal during the season but wouldn't get into details.
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