Game, Set, Match: Lightning 5, Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals’ season is over.  The Tampa Bay Lightning took the Eastern Conference Semifinal series 4 games to none.  The Capitals were outworked, outcoached, and outplayed.  The Capitals really have nobody to look at but themselves.  Sure, the Lightning have high-end scoring talent, but so do the Caps.  Sure, the Lightning have a very good goaltender, but the Caps were able to score on him, no “hot goalie” whining this year.  The Caps came into the series with rest, fewer injuries, and a deeper lineup, not to mention a winning record against Tampa this season.  The Lightning came into this series ready to fight, with a never-say-die attitude inspired by an assistant coach with a brain tumor, and a seething hatred for the Capitals that nobody in DC seems to pay attention to. The Capitals’ overconfidence and inability to adjust to their opponent cost them for the second straight postseason. 

Welcome to another long offseason.  We’ll be here to follow the comings and goings of players (and coaches?) in DC and Hershey, to keep you up to date on summer Caps events with an eye for the future, and to keep waving the flag for a downtrodden Caps nation.  Let’s hope Ovechkin and Semin can still make it to Bratislava for the World Championships, though.  It would be nice to see a couple Caps competing late into May, at least. 

It’s all over but the crying.

A quick season recap:  The Caps entered the season with astronomical expectations, they played well through Thanksgiving with run and gun, then dropped the ball after the Hannan-Fleischmann trade.  After losing 8 straight, the Caps new-look defensive system got them back on their feet, and 3 deadline day moves got them to the top of the Eastern Conference.  The Caps won a first round series for only the second time since 1998, and the first time in fewer than 7 games since 1998, and then completely disintegrated against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that is much improved over last season. 

In the grand scheme of things, the Caps did better than last year in many ways, but worse in others.  A high-powered offensive team in 2009-10 that won the Presidents’ Trophy got shackled this season.  The Caps 2008 team was lucky to make the playoffs and lost to a better team.  The 2009 Caps team won a round before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champs in 7.  The 2010 Caps regressed big-time, and in no small part due to the lack of a #2 center, though Bruce Boudreau scratching Brendan Morrison certainly didn’t help.  This year the Caps got through the first round, but they lost to a team that again had two big-time scoring centers.  Jason Arnott and Marcus Johansson aren’t bad, but neither of them are Vincent Lecavalier, either.

Let’s be honest, here, Tampa got a lot of lucky breaks, but they worked hard for them.  The Caps weren’t exactly at 100% in this series, especially in Game 4 when they were missing $12.7 million worth of defensemen while Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, and Tom Poti watched from the sidelines, but that doesn’t excuse the players who were on the ice.  Mike Knuble was a demon in this series, but missing games in it didn’t help the Caps, nor did all of the disallowed goals.  The Caps were sloppy all series, making bad line changes, taking needless offensive zone penalties, fielding a lazy and stagnant powerplay, and displayed a general lack of adhering to the game plan.  They were overconfident, and taking a nap even for a second against a team with Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier will burn you every single time. 

The Caps have to realize that no team is going to roll over for them in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  They will pull out all the stops, play hard, play hurt, cheat, block shots with their faces, do all the moves they’d normally only try in practice, double and triple shift players, hit harder, and never, ever, give up.  That’s because they believe in themselves and, unlike many of the Caps, know the value of hard work.  That’s what being immortal is all about, and that’s what’s at stake by having your name engraved on the Stanley Cup.