Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 5/19/12

Exactly one week ago, Washington fans were preparing themselves for another Game 7 in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.  They knew it would be another close game — 12 of the previous 13 had been one-goal games, and that they would be holding their breath until it was over.  And, that’s how it turned out.  The difference this time was that the Capitals were unable to pull an upset on the more highly seeded team’s home ice, and lost 2-1 to the New York Rangers.  Shortly after 10:00 PM last Saturday, the Capitals’ season ended, and the look on the faces of the Capitals that were all over the internet said it all.

Last summer, “The Hockey News”, the principal periodical covering the NHL predicted that the Capitals would hoist Lord Stanley for the first time in team history.  Some Capitals fans have blamed the ‘curse’ that appears to follow that prediction on yet another disappointing season.  This correspondent has a different view.

What hurt the Capitals this season was their string of seven consecutive wins — that’s correct — wins — to start the 2011-2012 season.  The logic goes something like this.  Having been told by all of the press how good they were, and starting the season with a league leading seven consecutive wins, many of the Caps began to believe their own press clippings.  They stopped playing as a team and several of the Washington ‘stars’ began to believe that their success was more important than the team’s success.  This came to a head in early November when the Capitals’ captain, Alex Ovechkin, was seen on national television calling his coach an unprintable name when he was left off the ice during the last minute of a game against the Dallas stars.  The ‘revolt’ against Coach Bruce Boudreau, which became obvious over the next few weeks, necessitated his firing.

Enter Dale Hunter, one of four former Capitals whose jerseys hang from the rafters in the Verizon Center.  He was a player who played with grit and who in the eyes of his players had ‘been there’.  It took several months for the players to buy in to Hunter’s approach to the game.  It took so long, in fact, that the Capitals were in serious jeopardy of failing to make the playoffs.  They clinched their playoff spot late in the last week of the season, squeaked in as a seventh seed, ahead of eighth seed Ottawa only as the result of a tie breaker.  Their seeding matched them against defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

They beat the Bruins in seven tough games, all decided by a single goal and four of the seven requiring more than 60 minutes of hockey.  That same team effort was carried forward into the second round, but as indicated above, they fell short and started their summer off in mid-May instead of the long-anticipated mid-June.

Where do they stand a week later?  Lots of things to think about.

  • Coach Dale Hunter resigned two days after the Game 7 loss, stating that he wanted to return to family and his beloved London (Ontario) Knights.  He will truly be missed, because it’s not clear that his successor — regardless of who it is — will be able to convince the ‘stars’ to play as a team.  The old saw that “… Offense wins games, but defense wins championships” has once again permeated this year’s playoffs.
  • Which of the Capitals free agents will George McPhee try to sign — and which will he choose to let go?
  • Can the Capitals learn to play a full 60 minutes during each of the regular season games?  They did in the playoffs.
  • Is the front office smart enough to realize that there is no goalie controversy?  Braden Holtby is the reason that the Caps went as far as they did in the playoffs and should be the starter between the pipes next year.

Caps fans are already counting the days until the puck drops next fall — Let’s Go Caps!

One quick postscript.  This is the last article from this correspondent.  As much as I love watching and writing about the Capitals, there are unfortunately too many demands on my time to do justice to the team that we all love.  If you’d like to be the Capitals correspondent, I encourage to pick up the baton and contact those responsible for the isportsweb site.

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