We are gathered here today to mourn not only the loss of the Washington Capitals, but also the loss of their chances of reasonably competing for a Stanley Cup any time in even the relatively near future.
You tend to hear a lot of talk about how one team or another has a "window" in which they can reasonably win the Stanley Cup. San Jose, for example, has had its window open and close so many times — by the media's reckoning — that Doug Wilson finally installed a revolving door to save on energy.
Another team for whom we hear entirely too much about their "window" is the Washington Capitals.
But the thing about that is if it was open at all any more (and frankly, it probably wasn't), it was open in the way that smokers crack their window on the highway, and that horrible high-pitched sound of wind rushing in so loud that you can't hear the radio any more was the voice of a thousand Alex Ovechkin apologists who wanted nothing more than for that incredible back half of the season to once again be reality, rather than outlier.
Just as death is inevitable, so too was this result; the kind of slow, heavy train you could feel coming miles away if you touched your hand to the track, its whistle a deep and mournful cry carried to you by the wind.
Of course the Capitals were going to trip in the first round. It couldn't happen any other way. Because, with the Capitals goes the Southeast Division, and nothing in the history of hockey has ever been more fitting than the last-ever champion of the worst division in the history of professional sports than losing at home to a six-seed that finished the regular season with one fewer point.
This is a team that finished with as many points as the Toronto Maple Leafs, and we're supposed to sit here and act as though they were somehow resurgent now.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't this team used to win Presidents' Trophies? And now it's relegated to barely squeaking through on the … well, I was going to say strength, but that's obviously not the right word… on the back of the fifth-weakest schedule in the league this season.
The Caps finished the year with 27 regular-season wins, mostly because the NHL FedEx'd their schedule to reporters and celebrities all over the country before the playoffs started, and in the end lost in the playoffs to a team from an actual decent division — not even a very good one — because they couldn't win one (1) game on the road.
It's amazing to think how such a thing could happen. Certainly, it can't have too much to do the fact that their coach, who only took until about halfway through the season that it might be a good idea to put Ovechkin on a line with someone other than Jay Beagle, was going up against a guy who should have way more than one Jack Adams, can it?
(Somewhere, Bruce Boudreau is eating $57 worth of McDonald's and mumbling, "Not so [expletive]in' easy, is it?")
If you're looking for people to blame for this team's thankfully quick and relatively painless death, you might wanna start with Alex Vechkin and Mike Ribier, who unfortunately forgot to bring the 'O' along for this postseason.
It seems that when teams like the Florida Panthers (six goals scored), and Winnipeg Jets (four) and Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes (three each) aren't on the schedule, it really is pretty tough to score in the National Hockey League when you're 27 years old, declining despite all appearances to the contrary this season, and have about three moves that actual NHL-caliber defenses long ago learned to stop.
Just a single goal in seven games, that on the power play, that in Game 1. One may shoot and shoot and be ineffectual, at least I am sure it may be so in Washington. Adam Oates is just left standing there with the unattached leash in his hand, saying, "Well hey I tried."
You have to wonder how many people among the mourners here today were those who said the magic of his regular season was real, and who excoriated those who brought up the inconvenient fact of against whom they were coming, and what it all probably meant in the end. It got Washington into the playoffs, and just barely saved it the indignity of finishing with fewer points than the ninth-place team.
At least Ovechkin can throw this year's Hart Trophy (if he wins it ... which he shouldn't) in with all the other awards in his closet, next to all the ones that say, "Whatever the opposite of the Conn Smythe is."
The Caps leading scorers in this postseason were, with full credit to them, Mike Green — who's going to spend his playoff bonus on hair gel and awful tattoos — Joel Ward, and Mathieu Perreault, and if you squint really hard, you can even see wedged between Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer, with 1-1-2 in seven freakin' games. Arron Asham had twice as many goals as that.
If you squint even harder than that, the Caps' playoff point leaders table becomes a Magic Eye picture of Dale Hunter, en route to another Memorial Cup and laughing hysterically at everyone who thought he was the reason Ovechkin didn't do dick offensively last season.
The Panthers last year (out in seven), these same Caps before them (swept in the second round), and the Caps (out in seven), and the Caps (out in seven in the second round), and the Caps (out in seven), and… well, you get the picture.
I think in retrospect, the Capitals' window was only ever open at all was because they were using a bunch of garbage teams to prop it open just wide enough for Nick Backstrom to squeeze his head out and tell everyone they'll be right up as soon as they can figure out how to get out of the league's sub-basement with the elevator out and the stairs gone. You talk about being prepared for the playoffs thanks to a tough regular-season schedule, but Bruce Boudreau was busy racking up 115 points on cupcakes in the regular season and on Weight Watchers. Pulling double duty isn't easy.
So what does it say for your chances for realistically sticking around in the Stanley Cup conversation, before a bouncer notices you're skulking around in the corner and tosses you out on your ass, when you can't even do that any more?
Though the Caps did not actually put together a credible accounting of themselves in this postseason, that's only because the NHL put them in an incredibly unfair situation: They had to play a team that was good enough to make the playoffs. How horrible.
Playoffs included, they finished the year with 10 wins against playoff teams from 28 games. Ten. Meanwhile, 18 of their 22 losses came against those same teams (to be fair, one of those came in overtime).
By way of comparison, they went 20-5-2 against non-playoff teams, which tells you just about everything you need to know. The Rangers' mere existence as a team that finished in the top eight in the second-best of two conferences all but ensured this defeat; the Caps took less than one-third of the points from playoff teams all season, so there was no reason to think they could win four of seven.
Ovechkin can direct all the blame at officiating and a grand conspiracy against the Capitals to force a Game 7 for because of "the lockout, escrow," but fortunately, Henrik Lundqvist will be there to save all that as well. If only it had been Ondrej Pavelec instead.
This was, it must be said, a very bizarre series.
For one thing, no one even bothered to win at home. Then no one told the Caps they were the home team for the deciding contest. Not very sporting of the Rangers to lie to them like that.
The Rangers advanced despite the fact that two of their highest-paid players were no-shows at best, enough to make even Ovechkin wonder how they pulled it off. Depth, I suppose, is one thing the Caps lacked that the Rangers had in comparative spades, even as everyone bemoaned that they'd traded most of that depth to Columbus for one of the aforementioned poltergeists who floated through the series.
The Caps' performance in Game 7 was, it goes without saying, more lifeless than Nick Backstrom's in a Geico commercial, and that seems just about right: This was the culmination of everything the Caps and the Southeast ever weren't.
Anyone — myself included — who ever thought a team from the Southeast was really all that much of a threat once the equilibrium of the post-cap world set in was seriously off their rockers. Same goes for anyone who thought these Caps were getting by on anything beyond smoke and mirrors that wouldn't fool the attendees at any kid's birthday party, age 8 and up.
But about that window: With the Rangers tossing the last shovelful of dirt not only on the fallacy that these Caps were in some way good and worthy of our attentions, but also on the Southeast, it slammed closed with the force of a billion atom bombs. They move into a division with the Penguins, Rangers, Islanders, Flyers, Devils and Hurricanes, in order of teams most likely to finish ahead of them next season and then also forever after that.
So the next time we're told the window is open for the Caps, it might be wise for their fans to throw themselves from it to spare themselves from the embarrassment of ever thinking this team was for real again.
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