Let me start off by saying, with exactly zero hyperbole, that I think the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to win the Stanley Cup. Seriously. They are incredibly well-coached, for one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team that goes as hard as they do when they give up a goal, and when they are trying to put a team away, and I think that’s where this series was ultimately won. Whenever the Caps got a lead, or TBL jumped ahead by a goal, they turned it up a significant notch and got the critical goals that they needed. They are so uncanny at switching from their trap system to a full-pressure fore checking system at will.
The Caps did things correctly this series. They got shots through to the net. They got zone time and pressure on the PP. They created traffic and were physical. And none of it mattered in the end. That, to me, shows the quality of their opponents (who were missing two significant pieces in Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina) and why I think they’re going to win this whole thing.
The larger question for the Caps, is where do they go from here? And frankly, I have no idea. This will be as muddled an off-season as we have seen here in quite some time. Last year, you could write off the Montreal series as a “Miracle on Manchester” type situation; where a young, talented team met an untimely demise and learned its lessons. They switched from an offense-first type of mindset to a defense-first mindset. What happens now? Who gets assigned blame for a terrible flameout the second year in a row? I just don’t know what to do or say any longer.
I think the helplessness of it all is what gets me the most. The Caps spend more time in my house than most of my family, and you get to know the players and their personalities and their various quirks. And when they fail as badly as they did in this series, it genuinely hurts, because there’s nothing I can do to fix it. There’s an ache in my heart and an emptiness I feel it in the depths of my stomach, because it’s so tough to watch your boyhood team, with all those memories and great moments continually fail to meet your expectations for them.
So it’s “wait ‘till next year” again, and all I can do is hope that one day it will be our turn, because that’s all I’ve got. And when that day comes, I hope I will remember moments like these and that somehow in the end, it all seemed worth it.