They did it again. The Washington Capitals, one of, if not THE best team in the National Hockey League, were bounced from the Stanley Cup playoffs last night…swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in four games. Once upon a time, when I lived in St. Louis and had season tickets to the Blues, a bunch of has-beens and never-was’ came to play the Blues. They were the expansion Washington Capitals. To say they were not good is being nice. But, as expansion teams do, they got better…and by the time I moved to the D.C. area, they were entertaining and winning.
So, my allegiance switched to the new home team…the red-white-and-blue clad Caps. They never won much in the playoffs, but at least they were involved. Then, the Caps switched to blue and gold unis, complete with an eagle on the chest. But, still, no Stanley Cup.
They went back to Capitals (with a stylized hockey stick over the “t”) on the jerseys, all red-white-and-blue again…but the result is the same.
They have arguably one of the best hockey players on the planet (Alex Ovechkin) skating for them. They play good, solid hockey. At times, it’s not pretty, but it sure was effective.
They easily defeated the New York Rangers in just five games in the playoff opening series this year…and I got it again. Caps Fever…Rockin’ the Red. Friends were talking hockey. Even up in Baltimore, there is a bar that basically serves as the home to Washington hockey up in Crab Town…no mean feat since Baltimoreans HATE anything to do with Washington. Everyone caught it…and then…
But, let me give you a basic primer on being a Caps fan. Like being a Cubs fan, you just KNOW things are NOT going to work out well. For example, last year Washington had the best record in hockey – and lost in the first round to Montreal, the eighth seed, in seven games. Two years ago, the second-seeded Capitals needed seven games to get by the No. 7 New York Rangers before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins, again in seven games. The year before that, the Caps went from last to first in their division but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Philadelphia – again in seven games. Get the picture…I could go on and tell you I actually stayed up through six (6) overtime periods only to see the Caps lose to, I believe, the New York Islanders many, many years ago. I should have known…
So this spring, after easily defeating New York, it appeared the Caps’ fortunes were finally turning. Could this club…a really good one in the regular season…finally bring home the Stanley Cup? The Capitals have been in the NHL since 1974 and have gotten exactly one shot at that fabled trophy, in 1998, when they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
No…and I’m starting to think someone from the District must have been told he couldn’t bring his goat into the Verizon Center (home, by the way, to 106 consecutive sell-outs) and placed a curse on the Caps. Yes…that happened in Chicago to the Cubs…so why not use that story to explain away this team’s inability to not only win the Cup, but to get to the finals?
Tampa Bay did finish just four points behind the Caps this year, so to overlook them would have been a mistake. I hardly think that was what happened. The team’s coach, Bruce Boudreau, who has the nickname Gabby because he loves to talk…and talk…and talk, didn’t have a lot to say following last night’s defeat. My guess is he’s thinking of what to tell the Caps general manager George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis when they get back to D.C.
Despite advancing to the playoffs in each year he has coached, Boudreau’s teams come up short when it counts. He is just 17-20 in the playoffs. McPhee recently was quoted saying, “Someone said he’s not a good playoff coach. There’s no difference between a playoff coach and a regular season coach. Either you’re a good coach or you’re not. He’s a good coach.” He certainly appears to be, but playoff hockey IS different than regular season hockey…and anyone who has seen both knows the difference almost immediately. Boudreau certainly knows that, so it is a real mystery as to why the Caps fail each spring. (McPhee was also quoted as saying he expects Boudreau to be back as head coach next season…but this was prior to the sweep by Tampa Bay.)
Noting something was not clicking, it was Coach Boudreau who made an abrupt mid-season system change. They began playing a more defensive style, which was supposed to help them in the playoffs. They got through a December slump, made key deals at the February trade deadline to add some veterans to a youthful roster, and won 12 games in March leading them to their fourth straight Southeast Division title. But still, it wasn’t enough. In the team’s history, it never is.
The Caps, have great players…youth…a seemingly good coach…but something is missing. Thank goodness the baseball season is young…the Cubs still have a chance. I wish I could say the same about the Caps. And someone, let a goat into the Verizon Center…it couldn’t hurt!