Capitals on the brink after 'top guys' falter in Game 4

PITTSBURGH, PA – MAY 03: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals handled the puck against Brian Dumoulin #8 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on May 3, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was hard on himself after his team’s 3-2 Game 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The defeat put the Caps down 3-1 against the Penguins and on the brink of elimination going home for Game 5. In Wednesday’s game, Ovechkin was held to two shots on goal, took two penalties and didn’t notch a single point.

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“Obviously, I didn’t play my game at all tonight,” Ovechkin said. “So I think me personally I have to play much better, get more involved in the game. It’s the time for us.”

Added Ovechhkin, “I didn’t control the puck well. I made stupid decisions. Unfortunately, it happened. We have to forget it and we have to move forward. Every game right now for us is a seventh game, so we have to win three to move forward, and I’m pretty sure we’re ready for that.”

The fact that Washington couldn’t beat a Pittsburgh team without captain Sidney Crosby, defenseman Kris Letang or first-line forward Conor Sheary – who were all out with injuries – made this loss even more difficult for the Capitals to swallow. Crosby and Sheary suffered concussions in Game 3 and Letang hasn’t played this postseason because of a neck injury. 

Washington had all core components in the lineup – a group that had the NHL’s top regular season record this past season – and still couldn’t pull out a victory. Ovechkin’s linemate Nicklas Backstrom was also held pointless. Goaltender Braden Holtby allowed three goals on 18 shots on goal. Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov was really the only star Caps forward who generated offense consistently and scored a goal.

If Washington loses this series to the Pens, it will be the third time in Ovechkin’s career that his team couldn’t beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs in the second-round. Ovechkin has also never gotten past the second-round of the postseason in his NHL career in five previous attempts.

Last season the Penguins beat the Caps in the second-round in six games. In that series Pittsburgh also went up 3-1 on Washington.

“It’s a little frustrating,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “I think we’ve got to do a better job getting to the interior. We had some golden opportunities to score goals, and for whatever reason, we didn’t put them in. Those have to go in.”

Though Ovechkin was hard on himself, the play of Holtby has been a major factor on why the Capitals are where they are in this series. They have outshot the Penguins every game this and won the overall puck possession battle in every contest. But while Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has made the necessary saves, Holtby has not.

So far this postseason, Holtby has held a 2.59 goal-against average and .909 save percentage. Against the Penguins he has held an .867 save percentage in the four games.

“Right now we’ve got to find an extra way to get an extra goal. We’ve got to get an extra save and our top guys tonight weren’t as good as they needed to be,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.

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There were a few other players that damaged Washington’s ability to win the game. Dmitry Orlov scored a brutal own goal, and an Oshie high-stick on Nick Bonino was called in the final two minutes of play. Even though replay showed the stick never touched Bonino, Oshie still took some blame.

“Tough time to get a penalty. That’s kind of an amateur play by me there,” Oshie said. “You’ve got to check with your feet in those big moments. I don’t think I got him that hard, but I’ve been on the other side, and the natural reaction when you get hit in the head is your head snaps back. It’s unfortunate and tough to be in that situation.”

Now the Capitals have to beat the Penguins in three straight games. It’s possible, but Washington needs to start burying some chances and also not allow the Penguins to score on their opportunities.

This hasn’t happened yet, no matter who has been in the Pens lineup, and the Caps have given little indication that a turnaround will happen soon enough.

“Now our backs are against the wall,” Trotz said. “Next game is the most important game of the year. If we don’t have the urgency that we need in that game, then we won’t earn the right to keep playing.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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