WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin wasn’t ready to start thinking about his or the Washington Capitals’ future following a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup First Round at Capital One Arena on Sunday.
The Capitals captain was too busy absorbing the disappointment of being eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season. So talk about his expiring contract or anything else that comes next will have to wait.
“We just lost in a playoff series” Ovechkin said. “Let’s talk about my contract and all that stuff later on.”
The Capitals began the best-of-7 series with great optimism about going on a long postseason run and won 3-2 in overtime in Game 1. But the Bruins won four straight after that, including in overtime in Game 2 and double overtime in Game 3, to send the Capitals into another long offseason of uncertainty.
“We play all season long for it, playing for a Stanley Cup,” Ovechkin said. “It’s hard to lose. Nobody wants to lose, right? We try to do best what we can. Obviously, we can do better. It [stinks]. It’s a bad feeling when you know you have a pretty good team.”
The Capitals haven’t won a playoff series since they won the Stanley Cup in 2018. They lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2019 and were eliminated in five games by the New York Islanders last season.
The biggest question heading into this offseason is similar to last season: Does this aging group have enough left to win another championship?
If it seemed the Capitals’ Cup window was closing after they lost to the Islanders last August, now add another missed opportunity and another year of age to their core of Ovechkin, who turns 36 on Sept. 17, center Nicklas Backstrom, 33, right wing T.J. Oshie, 34, center Lars Eller, 32, and defenseman John Carlson, 31.
“The guys that were here, the core guys that you’re talking about, are a big reason we had success in the regular season that we did,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “They’re terrific players; they’ve been terrific players here. And I think we’re all frustrated with the playoffs because we weren’t able to move past the Bruins and get into the second round. So there’s frustration. So I think everything gets looked at and evaluated.”
There’s additional uncertainty this time with Ovechkin, who can become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Ovechkin, general manager Brian MacLellan and owner Ted Leonsis have said repeatedly that they aren’t worried, and it seems to be a matter of time before Ovechkin is re-signed. But until a new contract is announced, it will be something to keep an eye on.
“Well, I’d like to think he’s going to be back,” Laviolette said. “This is his team. That’s business that gets taken care of on a different day. With regard to Alex, not having worked with him before, he’s a good person, he cares, he plays hard. This is his team. And he feels the disappointment just like everybody else does tonight.”
Laviolette, who won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006 and also reached the Stanley Cup Final with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and the Nashville Predators in 2017, was brought in to replace Todd Reirden, who was fired after last season. Laviolette pushed a lot of the right buttons and the Capitals finished second in the MassMutual East Division by going 36-15-5 with 77 points during the regular season.
But Washington seemed to break down over the compacted 56-game schedule. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie and Carlson each missed games late in the regular season with lower-body injuries. Eller also missed Game 3 against Boston with a lower-body injury.
“We all played,” Backstrom said. “I feel like at this time of the year, everyone on every team has players that are banged up. No excuses there.”
Still, the Capitals appeared tired in a 4-1 loss in Game 4 on Friday. They rebounded with a strong push Sunday, outshooting the Bruins 41-19, but trailed 2-0 until Conor Sheary‘s rebound goal 11 seconds into the third period gave them some hope. That disappeared when Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron scored with 7:35 remaining to make it 3-1.
“The fourth game, they were fresher than us, and obviously we knew we have to play better,” Ovechkin said. “We didn’t play our way in the fourth game. I thought tonight we had a very good game. We just didn’t score goals.”