Did it have to end this way? Couldn’t the Caps have not turned things on with an 11-1-1 April? Couldn’t they have dropped one of the two overtime games that they wound up winning-only masking a team that didn’t lead in regulation after the 12:50 mark of the first period of game three? Meaning after game one the Caps led for exactly 8:44 of the final 377 minutes and 24 seconds. The summer of discontent begins with questions, comments and concerns in Caps Nation.

Seventh Hell?– the Caps fall to 3-9 lifetime in Game Sevens…and 1-8 at home (the only win coming in 2009 over the New York Rangers). Their history of misery began on the night before Easter in April 1987 when they lost in four overtimes to Pat LaFontaine and the New York Islanders– I had to get up at 6am the following day to go to church to play handbells. Let’s just say Eggs Benedict on 4 hours sleep does not work wonders-especially with bells clanging repeatedly.

Southeast Mirage– while the Capitals made their run, they were loading up (15-3) on a weak Southeast Division–the only division to send just one team to the playoffs and one that boasted three of the four worst records in the league. Next winter they’ll be realigned into something similar to the old Patrick Division-making their path the postseason much more difficult but perphaps will better prepare them for when they get there.

Penalties Posing Problems– 14 more penalty minutes brought the Caps’ 7 game total to 76. Every try to sprint after laying back on your heels for an extended period of time? When you spend one out of every six minutes trying to hold off a power play…it’s tough to generate offensive flow and momentum. There were a few mystifying penalties. And there were some stupid ones. Cleaning them up in the future when games matter most will be a priority.

Lundqvist Lays Down the Lumber– It’s tough to consistently outshoot your opponent yet consistently come up empty. The Caps were stonewalled again by Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist– 62 saves over the last two games…the Rangers in their duck and dive defensive style were able to limit quality chances. While there’s no shame in losing to a hot goaltender, Caps fans have to wonder when they have the standing on his head goalie again. Is Braden Holtby that guy? He had played superbly until Monday’s defeat…and in looking at the longview is the best netminder this current Caps generation of players has had behind them.

Mister May?– with apologies to baseball HOF Dave Winfield and the late George Steinbrenner, it’s actually a good thing to be sort of a Mister May in the NHL Playoffs. After scoring a league-high 32 goals in the lockout-shortened regular season, Alex Ovechkin tallied 1 goal and 1 assist in the series with the Rangers. Usually a producer in the postseason (first four years averaging more than 1 point a game, with a high of 10 goals and 11 assists in 14 games in 2009), the Caps captain posted 9 points over 14 games last sping…and saw that production decrease this May. He’s got to go home and have a summer like Larry Bird did in 1984 when the Celtics got swept by Milwaukee…the legend came back focused and on fire en route to the three best years of his career. Does Ovie have the aptitude and attitude to maximize his altitude?

It takes a Village– now while we acknowledge the importance of having your best players play their best…hockey is the one sport where the dominant stars have the least overall influence. A quarterback handles the ball on every play. A pitcher determines every pitch. And a great basketball player can touch the ball every time up the floor. Ovechkin is only on the ice for 35 to 45 seconds at a time… and relies on his teammates as much as if not more than other sports’ elite players. Martin Erat’s injury midway through the series undercut the second line… and Brooks Laich’s season long struggles hurt the team as well. What moves will need to be made to maintain the nucleus that coach Adam Oates desires yet improve the overall talent so next May there’s a second or even third series to think about?

Cruel Summer– this season began in late January due to the lockout, many marveled at how long the offseason was. Truth is, after experiencing just enough playoff success to think of it as a probability instead of simply a possibility–every offseason you’re not playing for a Cup (let alone playing for playing for a Cup)-is a long, cruel summer.

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