Capitals' ability to cope leaves an opening for hope

The Capitals' Stanley Cup-or-bust mind-set has left them unfulfilled, but already focusing on 2010-11.
The Capitals' Stanley Cup-or-bust mind-set has left them unfulfilled, but already focusing on 2010-11. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Washington Capitals are taking the sensible course, which is also, conveniently, the path of least emotional resistance, in coping with their numbing first-round playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

On Friday, the Caps circled the wagons and wisely chose to defend their core players and their coaches against the slightest hint of lost confidence, interpreting the defeat in a way that allows them, and their fans, to go forward with the least damage.

"Everybody has to take their full share of responsibility. But I can't allow five or six days to skew how I see the whole team," General Manager George McPhee said. "We have good coaches. They are going to be here a long time. That is not part of the evaluation.

"We really liked our team and still do," McPhee added. "These young star players got us to where we are." So, don't expect many, if any, of the biggest names to go anywhere.

In what amounted to an informal marathon four-hour news conference that took as long as a triple-overtime game, almost every player as well as McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau took turns speaking at length.

What emerged was part confessional apology to their fans, part team-wide rededication to task, as well as considerable spinning of recent events so they become even slightly endurable.

One after another on Friday, they revealed their feelings and reflections on a playoff upset so stunning that it might be described as a once-a-generation shocker if it hadn't happened to the Caps, a team that has now blown seven playoff series since 1985 in which it held a two-game lead.

McPhee was so shaken by seeing his Presidents' Trophy-winning powerhouse blow a three-games-to-one lead to last-seeded Montreal that he said: "As I was driving home [after Wednesday's 2-1 Game 7 loss] I was asking myself, 'Is there anything you could have done differently?' There wasn't. I don't think so.

"But you sure don't want to see anybody. You're looking for a trap door to hide for a little while to get over it."

If anything Boudreau seemed even more devastated, yet equally confident, in the future of his core of young stars, who he described as feeling "beyond remorse."

"Two weeks ago we were on top of the world. We felt invincible. Maybe that was part of the problem," Boudreau said. "Then they outsmart you and outplay you to a degree and you end up regretting it for a very long time."

When pressed, the coach backtracked on the words "outsmarted" and "outplayed," pointing to the Caps' huge advantage in shots in the last two games (54-21 and 42-16). Still, Boudreau's original phrases, in his first burst of public words after stewing for two days, probably reflect his bone-deep candor.

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