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NHL playoffs: Don't blame Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates a goal by Mike Knuble #22 (not shown) against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (May 3, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

Well, if you're a Rangers fan, you can certainly heap some scorn upon the Caps' captain after their rather swift exit from the postseason last night at the hands of the Lightning, who looked like the deeper, faster, more talented team in all four games -- all the same things we were saying and writing during the Rangers' five-game loss to the Caps.

But that series was a harbinger of what happened to Washington, at least I thought so. The Caps didn't dominate the Rangers for more than three or four periods in those five games; when they took control, it was because the supporting cast around Ovechkin turned it on, most notably Alexander Semin.

Semin scored twice against the Lightning and twice against the Rangers, but he was a ghost for basically the whole tournament, as he was a year ago. Ditto Nicklas Backstrom, who managed just two assists in nine playoff games and gave a candid self-assessment after last night.

Marcus Johansson is only 20 and had a good series against the Rangers, but was also rendered invisible by Tampa. Johansson and young D John Carlson and Karl Alzner give the Caps some real promise, but they needed to learn on the fly and it didn't go that well. Same for G Michal Neuvirth, who didn't make the big saves often enough this series.

Another liability for the Caps is Mike Green, who was hurt for last night's finale. Green missed the final 20 games of the regular season with a concussion. Washington was 16-3-1 in those games as Bruce Boudreau forced his team to play tighter; Green returned against the Rangers and found some open ice, but was a liability in his own zone, even against the Rangers' somewhat punchless offense.

Green was really exposed against the Lightning, as were Scott Hannan (gone for sure via free agency) and Jeff Schultz, who may not even make next season's team despite three years left on his contract.

The Caps have some holes to fill, and if Brooks Laich slips through the cracks, expect the Rangers, Islanders and 27 other teams to be waiting, contract offers in hand. Laich wasn't great against Tampa, but if the Caps let him get to July 1, I'd be stunned.

Boudreau may be gone too -- there's certainly been enough speculation about it. Not sure what that solves, since Ovechkin and a few of the current Caps tuned out the harder-edged Glen Hanlon before Boudreau came on board.

But don't blame Ovechkin. He did what he needed to, but no one else did.

New York Sports