(Reuters) - Still stinging after yet another disappointing early exit from the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs, Russian sniper Alex Ovechkin was forced to try and explain what went wrong for his top-seeded Washington Capitals.
And while Ovechkin has been in this position before, having never reached a conference finals during his 11-year NHL career despite eight trips to the postseason, he clearly is no more comfortable with the process.
"I'm proud of my team, proud of my teammates. I'm proud of this group no matter what happened, but, again, we lost in the second round, so it (stinks)," a barely audible Ovechkin said after Tuesday's season-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After years of playoff heartbreak, this season looked like it may hold a new ending for Ovechkin as the most dangerous goal scorer of his era helped his Capitals lock up home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs with a month to spare.
He kept up his solid play during the postseason, recording five points during a best-of-seven first-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers that lasted six games.
Ovechkin then added another seven points during the Eastern Conference semi-final versus Pittsburgh that ended in overtime of a Game Six that saw Washington storm back from a 3-0 second-period deficit.
"Every year, there's lots of expectations, lots of great players, but something we're missing," said Ovechkin, who has 82 points in 84 career NHL playoff games. "This group of guys can do better and bigger than just the second round.
"We have the best goalie in the league, we have a solid group of guys on the defensive side, and all four lines can play well. You can see it. We just didn't execute when we had a chance to put the puck in the net."
The heartbreaking end to the season has prompted some to suggest the Capitals need to make sweeping changes if they want to take the next step while others feel a few complementary pieces are all that is needed.
As captain of the Capitals, Ovechkin often shoulders the blame when his team underperforms, and while he could have cashed in on more of his chances few would argue that he is to blame for the early playoff exit.
"Listen, I'm going to obviously stick up for my captain," said Capitals winger Justin Williams. "He did all the right things, said all the right things. It certainly isn't on him. It's about us as a team not being quite good enough."
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes