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What now for the Washington Capitals?

As we said in the opening round, the annual ritual for Washington Capitals fans in the last several postseasons has been figuring out the worst case scenarios for their team’s seemingly inevitable departure from the playoffs. 

Previously, the worst case scenario in the Capitals' series against the Pittsburgh Penguins might have been a Game 7 loss on home ice, with Alex Ovechkin getting stopped on a breakaway and Justin Williams going scoreless and a minus-2.

However, that was before Game 4 on Wednesday night. That was before the Capitals faced a Penguins team that was missing Kris Letang, arguably their most irreplaceable player, as well as defenseman Olli Maatta and Eric Fehr, whose made his presence known in this series.

The weight of importance on this game was doubled – alright, tripled – by the weight of playoff disappoints of yore. Outside of the Capitals’ various Game 7s, it was the most must-win playoff games of the Ovechkin Era.

And they lost. In overtime.

“We’ll have to deal with it. This group has dealt with a lot of things,” said coach Barry Trotz.

The coach warned the Capitals that the Penguins would rally around the Letang suspension, so the Capitals were well aware that would be the case. But still: This team was 2-8-1 in the regular season without Letang. He was skating 29 minutes a game for them. The Penguins can replace an injured Marc-Andre Fleury. Evgeni Malkin can pick up the slack from Sidney Crosby. There’s literally no one on the roster that does what Letang does.

How could they not take advantage of this?

“That’s not in my control at all. My job is to stop the puck and I have to do a better job of that,” said goalie Braden Holtby, who has now given up 11 goals in this series and three each in the road games.

(Perhaps that was a sneaky point of concern: Holtby had his lowest save percentage against the Penguins this season, at .913, for teams against whom he played three or more games.)

Not only did they fail to take advantage of that absence, they failed to take advantage of an absence handed to them on a silver platter by the NHL.

But then again, the Capitals have shown they don’t exactly know how to get their hands around the silver in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We didn’t take advantage of it. One thing I said to the guys when we went into this was that when Kris got the suspension, they were going to rally. Their forwards were going to come back. They didn’t play their best game, and with Letang out, they were going to step up, and they did,” said Trotz.

Now it’s a 3-1 series deficit for the Capitals. If their postseason was a control console, there would be red flashing warning lights all over it.

- Brooks Orpik gets three games; Dmitry Orlov replaces him; Orlov would have replaced Nate Schmidt last night for a lineup change, but he was already in for Orpik, so Mike Weber replaced Schmidt and set up the Penguins’ winning goal. Wicked chain, that one.

- The Capitals’ power play sits at 1-for-12 in the series.

- Alex Ovechkin has a goal and two assists this series. He can be better. But stop me if you’ve heard this one before: He’s getting no secondary scoring support. Nicklas Backstrom, whose annual escape from criticism for his postseason performances must perplex Ovechkin, has one assist. Marcus Johansson has one goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov, the phenom who led the Capitals in points in the regular season, has one assist in his last seven playoff games.

- As Dan Steinberg noted, the Capitals were 27-6-8 in one-goal games in the regular season to lead the NHL, and they’re 2-4 in the playoffs and 1-3 in this series.

- As Ben Raby notes, the last three-game losing streak for Holtby was Games 5-7 in their loss to the Rangers last season.  

Regular season tendencies reverse course. Scoring inexplicably dries up. Opportunities are squandered. An opposing goalie is made to look like Ken Dryden.

Same [expletive], different season.

“I have a lot of trust in this group. They’ve shown a lot of resiliency,” said Trotz.

The Capitals have two days to regroup and attempt to push this series back to Pittsburgh. Letang will be back. Orpik will not. The Penguins will enter the game smelling blood. The Capitals will enter the game fearing for their postseason lives.

“We have the experience and the composure. It’s just a matter of putting it to use now,” said Holtby.

Experience, they have. Jury’s out on the latter. 

-- 

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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