“Just when you think you’re in control, just when you think you’ve got a hold, just when you get on a roll, oh, here it goes, here it goes, here it goes again.”
-OK Go, “Here It Goes Again”
There was a nice break from disappointment in last year’s championship post, but old habits die hard for the Washington Capitals. As a fan, another early exit stings, however, I’m not about to claim it hurts less because they won the Stanley Cup last year. In fact, this one will linger a little longer due to wasted opportunities, a sense of urgency for the dwindling hopes of a dynasty, and the eerie fall into familiarity.
Okay, the Pittsburgh Penguins getting swept helps a little, but it was by a Barry Trotz-led New York Islanders squad that was supposed to be garbage this year.
And the stinging returns once more.
Does experience actually matter or have the Caps reverted back to underachieving heartbreak? The team was essentially the same group that won the coveted cup last year, so one would assume that they would be able to hold a 2-0 series advantage against arguably the 16th best team in the playoffs: a Carolina Hurricanes team they swept 4-0 in the regular season. Or they would at the very least be able to hold a two goal lead at home in a game seven that shouldn’t have been happening to begin with. Fans and analysts can claim that T.J. Oshie’s game four injury played a vital part in losing four out of their last five games, and Michel Kempny’s exit before the playoffs even started doomed the squad from making another deep run, but those are just excuses. The Hurricanes had injuries as well, and even more players have been added to the list in their second-round series against the Islanders—a series they lead 3-0 at the moment.
So are the Hurricanes that good? No. Sebastian Aho is pretty decent, but he can barely be considered a top-50 talent. So are they young? Sure, but that’s not an excuse either because their youngest star, 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov, was knocked out early in game three against the Caps courtesy of a few powerful rights by Alexander Ovechkin, and just returned to the lineup last night. The two players who really stabbed a dagger in the hearts of the Caps organization and fan base were Jordan Stall and Justin Williams, 30 and 37 respectively.
What’s the secret to the Hurricanes’ success then? It has to be momentum, and this is why the Stanley Cup playoffs are great, but also devastating at the same time. This has been a wild (no pun intended) year so far; all four wild card teams moved on to the second round, and only three higher seeds won their first-round series, and two of them had to clinch in game sevens, including a miraculous comeback by the San Jose Sharks over the Vegas Golden Knights. Out of the four wild card teams, the Hurricanes are the one team that can’t truly validate their magic.
Everyone is aware of how great the Tampa Bay Lightning played this season (and everyone is still aware of the President’s Trophy curse). Maybe it’s shocking the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in the first round, but I didn’t find it surprising that they won the series. They have a superstar in Artemi Panarin, one of the league’s best young defensemen in Seth Jones, and all the acquisitions they made at the trade deadline were bound to pay off. In fact, they may be the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference at the moment, leading their series against the Boston Bruins, 2-1. The Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars both have perennial superstars as well: Nathan MacKinnon, Jaime Benn, and Tyler Seguin to name a few. The Avalanche have a top-ten offense, tallying 260 regular season goals, and the Stars allowed the fewest goals in the league (202) due to a stout defense and Vezina Trophy-finalist Ben Bishop.
With this being said, the Caps failed to take advantage of said wild situation. With most of the top competition ousted, including the pesky Penguins, they had a grand opportunity at being able to chant “back to back” as Oshie preached during last’s year celebration.
Perhaps they were a tad too lax throughout the series, perhaps they’ve adopted this young societal mindset of full entitlement expected after little to no accomplishment, but there needs to be some urgency if the organization wants to take advantage of a window that has been closing for over half a decade now.
Isabelle Khurshudyan, Washington Post- Capitals prepare for offseason focused on the roster’s fringes rather than its core
The core isn’t that young and it showed in both overtimes of game seven against the Hurricanes as stamina was an issue. Nine players are set to become restricted or unrestricted free agents, and 2020 is a pivotal year for stars Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby to receive new contracts, not to mention Ovechkin’s contract is up in 2021. If the Caps are to extend their title window, they need to start acting like 2018 wasn’t some fluke.
David Hookstead, The Daily Caller- TV ratings for the NBA playoffs down 19%, NHL playoffs up 1%
Every Stanley Cup playoff game is a battle; it’s not like the predictable NBA playoffs which can be guessed after the ball is tipped at the start of the season. The parity and intensity of the NHL playoffs are on full display this year, leaving Caps fans saying, “Here it goes again.” Winning a championship doesn’t automatically change everything.
Good luck to the Hurricanes because they’re going to need it; next year they will revert back to their normal as well. Unfortunately for the Caps, the Blue Jackets will be way better, the Islanders should improve as well, and the Penguins will still be around—and that’s just in their division. The Montreal Canadians are on the rise, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a force, The Boston Bruins somehow continue to not get worse, and you don’t think the Lightning are really really pissed off right now—again?
Shout out to the Buffalo Sabres as well. They’re about due. Like, seriously, Buffalo.
Let’s not even get into how good the Western Conference will be.
The window is closing again, don’t let it shut.