Lacking 'killer instinct,' Capitals head into offseason

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

ARLINGTON, Va. -- While some Washington Capitals professed to not see a pattern in blown playoff series leads over the years or failures to reach the conference finals, forward Troy Brouwer wondered aloud Friday about a possible "mental block."

"We've got to find a way to be able to get past this little hump of losing in the first or second round, and it starts with closing teams out and not being afraid to succeed," Brouwer said at the Capitals' practice facility, two days after the team was eliminated by the New York Rangers with a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7.

Brouwer drew a contrast to his days as a member of a young, bold Chicago Blackhawks squad in 2010 that "knew" it would win series after series -- and did, en route to claiming the Stanley Cup.

"That arrogance, that cockiness, it goes a long way, because it gives you no doubt in your mind. It gives you no second-guessing, no what-ifs," Brouwer said.

Then, referring to the Capitals, he added: "It could be a little bit of a mental block for some guys, for sure."

Washington was 101 seconds from advancing out of the second round, leading the best-of-seven series 3-1 and ahead 1-0 in the third period of Game 5 against New York.

But the Rangers tied that game with a little more than 1 minutes left, then won in overtime. In Game 6 at Washington, the Capitals fell behind 2-0 and 4-1, eventually losing 4-3. In Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, Alex Ovechkin put his team ahead, but the Rangers came back again.

"We needed a bounce and we didn't get it," forward Jason Chimera said.

Asked later how his health is heading into the offseason and whether he might need surgery, Chimera joked: "Maybe surgery on my torn heart, but that's about it."

Ovechkin headed out of town Thursday to join the Russian national team at the world championships in the Czech Republic, and so was not present to speak to reporters Friday. Right after the loss, Ovechkin lamented, "I think we deserved a better result," a sentiment repeated often Friday.

The core of the current team -- Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green -- has never won more than one series in a single NHL postseason.

The offseason could see changes, because Green is one of seven unrestricted free agents. There also is the foundation for a bright future, with goalie Braden Holtby's big step forward this season and a pair of electric rookie forwards, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky.

Whether by virtue of culture or coincidence, Washington has found ways to blow big edges in series after series -- 10 two-game leads frittered away in series that were eventually lost, the most by any franchise in hockey.

"We're going to have find that next level of killer instinct," coach Barry Trotz said. "There's a lot of hurt in that room, not because we necessarily lost this series, but we know that this team could go farther. Maybe farther than we thought we could."

As Brouwer put it: "You have to get over that we haven't done this before; this is new territory for us. And when we do, and I know we will in the next few years -- hopefully next year -- this team is going to make a deep run for a Stanley Cup in the near future."