NEW YORK (AP) Alexander Ovechkin did everything but deliver on his predication of a Game 7 victory by the Washington Capitals.
The NHL's leading goal scorer tallied early to give the Capitals the lead, launched six shots at Henrik Lundqvist, played almost 22 minutes and was Washington's biggest threat Wednesday night.
It wasn't enough to prevent the Capitals from squandering a 3-1 series lead for the fifth time in franchise history, losing the final game 2-1 on Derek Stepan's overtime goal.
What made this one even tougher was that the Capitals were up 1-0 in Game 5 and on the verge of wrapping up the series when Chris Kreider scored with 1:41 to play in regulation and Ryan McDonagh won it in overtime.
Goaltender Braden Holtby didn't know how long it would take the Capitals to get over the loss.
''It's tough to say,'' said Holtby, who was spectacular in the series. ''(We) left it all out there. I don't think there was one guy who wasn't committed. That's life sometimes. We keep growing like we did this year we're going to do special things in the future. ''
Playing their first season under coach Barry Trotz, the Capitals become a responsible team. They played two-way hockey and it slowed down the Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers in the tight series in which every game was decided by a goal.
''I kept saying to the guys all year long is that you learn different things from defeat and you learn different things from winning,'' Trotz said. ''This is a new group. Our team has changed but we are learning from our history and are looking it right in the eye and we went after this game. There's no nervousness on our part. We went after the New York Rangers in their own barn and almost pulled it off. I said to them all year defeat is not your undertaker and should be your teacher.''
Trotz made his own prediction:
''You're going to see the Washington Capitals back here again,'' he said after the team failed to make the conference final for the first time since 1998.
Ovechkin has never made it to conference final in his 10 seasons. He was on the bench when Stepan ended it. He looked at the ice, shook his head, then got in line for the traditional handshakes.
''We were so close to finishing the series here (in Game 5) but we didn't and they came back,'' Ovechkin said. ''I don't think we played bad. ...I don't know what to say but it's tough.''
Ovechkin said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was very good the last three games.
''I don't think anyone could put a finger on someone else,'' he said. ''We have a great team and I think we deserved a better result.''
Ovechkin did his best to get it, scoring early to give Washington a 1-0 lead. Kevin Hayes tied it for New York on a second-period power play.
''My top guys delivered,'' Trotz said. ''All the top guys delivered. Alex, Nicklas (Backstrom), they all delivered. They were great today. They grew up. They grew today. People went after Alex for saying what he did. I love to go in the foxhole with guys who will stick their neck out and say `I will deliver for you.' And he did.
Capitals veteran forward Troy Brouwer felt for his teammates. They had played an outstanding first period and had the better of the play in overtime until Stepan scored.
''The majority of overtime goals are bounces, whether it is a good bounce for you or a bounce that goes the other way,'' he said. ''. Tonight it was a bounce that went the other way. A lot of times those pucks hit shinpads and go into the corner (or) out of the zone. Tonight it went to a good scoring area.''