It's time to say goodbye to another Washington Capitals tease of a season.
For many years, Washington teams couldn't reach the playoffs. Now it seems they have a new way to torment fans. Maryland basketball was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and No. 2 entering the final month, yet was fortunate to even make the Sweet 16 before disappearing. The Washington Nationals were supposed to win the World Series last season and didn't make the playoffs. Same for the Washington Wizards, who went from top contenders to missing the postseason this spring.
And now the Caps pull off the biggest freefall. After winning the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team, they're down, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not the Stanley Cup finals or even the conference finals, but just the second round.
Be honest -- it will take a miracle to win three straight against the Penguins after losing the last three to Pittsburgh. Whether it ends at Verizon Center May 7 or Games 6 or 7, Washington's history says it can't come back. The past three games say it, too. That Pittsburgh hasn't lost three straight since December and is playing tremendously says it, too.
How sad -- this so looked like the year Washington would finally win the championship. Instead, it's just year 43 of the franchise.
Ironically, the Caps have played well during the series. They're firing away on offense and hitting hard on defense. There's no doubting their effort. The problem is the Pens are playing just a touch better and have been a little luckier, like scoring off a deflection from a player's back. This is a razor-thin series, and Pittsburgh has received the breaks.
Maybe Washington was just unlucky enough to face the eventual Stanley Cup winner, because Pittsburgh can surely go the distance. It's speed and coordination makes every possession seem like a possible score.
Pens goaltender Matt Murray has stopped 104-of-109 shots during three straight wins. Maybe Alex Ovechkin should try something else besides blasts from the left side. Yes, Ovechkin is one of the greats, but he's also getting stoned by Murray, so try something different. That the Pens always seem to have a defender between Ovechkin and the goal is smart, and the Caps need to match it with passing elsewhere.
Should the season soon end, the Caps will wonder what's it going to take to win the championship. Certainly, they have the right coach in Barry Trotz, who's that classic hockey guy that preaches intense play. Washington has a superstar in Ovechkin but also enough star talent around him. And Braden Holtby is one of the game's top goalies.
There's no easy answer to this dilemma. The Caps aren't soft. They have no holes over four lines. Maybe they just need a break.
But it's not coming this season.