After early playoff exit, Capitals fire their coach

Back-to-back early playoff exits were enough to make the Washington Capitals realize they made a mistake.

In the two years since promoting top assistant Todd Reirden instead of giving Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz a raise, they’ve been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. On Sunday, the team fired Reirden days after losing a five-game series to Trotz’s New York Islanders and moved toward hiring the seventh coach since Alex Ovechkin entered the NHL.

“There was a continuity that we tried to duplicate with Todd to keep the same structure going forward,” general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters in a video interview. “I think it worked for a while, and as we evolved it started to slip and it wasn’t working. I guess in hindsight you could say we could’ve brought in a more experienced guy, but I thought that was the right decision at the right time for both the players and what we had going on in circumstances.”

Dismissing Reirden is an acknowledgement that the longtime assistant wasn’t able to make the most out of a team built to continue contending for championships with Ovechkin, centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, wings Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie and defensemen John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov in the prime of their careers.

After Trotz coached the Capitals to their first title in franchise history in 2018, an automatic extension kicked in to keep him under contract at his current salary. NHL coaching salaries had ballooned between the time Trotz signed his contract and lifted the Cup, and the organization decided to let him go rather than pay him more on a long-term deal.

“It’s disappointing for us that we couldn’t come to an agreement, a compromise on the negotiations,“ MacLellan said. “We were more than willing to pay market level. I think term was the sticking point on the negotiation.”

Asked Sunday about Reirden losing his job, Trotz said: “It’s part of what you sign up (for when) coaching. That’s what you accept when you’re a head coach in the National Hockey League. Just wish him well.”

Sunday’s game

Bruins 3, Lightning 2: Jaroslav Halak stopped 35 shots to win his fourth straight game since starter Tuukka Rask opted out of the playoffs, and Boston beat Tampa Bay in the opener of an Eastern Conference semifinals series in Toronto.

Charlie Coyle tipped in Brandon Carlo’s point shot to open the scoring. David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand had a goal and assist apiece for the Bruins, who are resembling the team that led the NHL with 100 points and 44 wins in the regular season.

Victor Hedman scored for the Lightning, with both goals coming in the final 11:10 of the game and after Tampa Bay fell behind 3-0.

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