1987. 1992. 1996. Now, 2010. Welcome, new generation of Washington Capitals fans. This is the fourth time the Caps have fallen after being up 3 games to 1. There's going to be a lot of finger pointing, a lot of spinning, a lot of grief. The bottom line is that the Capitals let this one slip away and didn't have the killer instinct that is need in the playoffs. History should have been a reminder to them, but it seemed to fall to the back-burner.
The big question now is goaltending. With the exit of Jose Theodore, the question becomes whether or not Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are going to be enough to keep this team at a somewhat elite regular season status and then onto the playoffs. With the limited cap room, I doubt you'll see GM George McPhee go all out to get a UFA goalie. Though, maybe he could seek a trade for prospects and other assets could be the avenue. We'll have to see how the coaching staff and management feel.
Defensively, the Caps saw the future with the Game Seven pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner. Both of these guys should be a regular pairing starting next season and could take some top minutes away from Jeff Schultz and Mike Green. Speaking of Green, while you can't put much of the blame on him, there has to be some kind of block that makes him hate the playoffs. With the exception of his year in Hershey, Green has not shown up in a dramatic fashion for the playoffs. I don't know how sports psychology will help, but he may need to see what he needs to do to remedy himself of the situation.
Offensively, what can you say?? The Caps got shutdown by a team who read them the right way. Alex Ovechkin got no space after Game Four and it worked. If Nicklas Backstrom doesn't get a long-term deal this summer, I'll riot in DC when I get there. Backstrom was solid this season and solid in the playoffs, which should more than warrant him for a "Caps for Life" contract. Of course, the questions start to pop up with the like of Alex Semin, who could be used as trade bait after his inconsistent end of the year and playoffs. The debate on whether Tomas Fleischmann or Eric Fehr should stay or go will pop up and what the Caps can get from their feeder system in Hershey. It's not like a wholesale change is needed, as the Caps did pretty well for offense this year and don't need a major overhaul. Just something for the long-haul.
Bruce Boudreau said this could be the last time this group plays together. Odds are with the UFAs and some RFAs, there will be a somewhat decent turnover. Whether that includes him remains to be seen, but doubtful. Boudreau can only do so much for this team since he can't play. However, the lack of success in the playoffs is something that could be come a troubling trend if it happens again next year.
It's a bittersweet thing, to be the best team in the regular season then completely collapse in the post-season, but it's something to build on. I pondered whether or not they can learn more after the losses they have endured since getting back into the playoffs, but at the same time-- you can really never stop learning. This generation of Caps will have to do a lot of soul searching, a lot of more developing, if they want to get to that next level. You have to lose before you win. The Caps just have to hope the latter part comes soon.