The Washington Capitals did not go gently into the offseason, but they're still gone two rounds before the NHL's best regular-season team was expected to exit.
The Pittsburgh Penguins ousted the Presidents' Trophy winners from the second round with a 4-3 overtime victory May 10. The Pens owned the game and mostly the six-game series. Washington lost to a better team with the hotter goaltender, a little more speed, fewer bad penalties and some extra toughness.
This wasn't the 2010 first-round collapse to eighth-seeded Montreal, when Washington was the clear No. 1. It was losing to an equally hot team that just gained a couple more breaks and wasn't intimidated.
So now what? Once more, the Caps have nothing to show for a season that offered greatness from the start. When winning was a given for so long and everything went right until the playoffs.
Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik will take heat for first missing three games with a suspension and then committing a four-minute penalty that saw Pittsburgh increase its lead, from 1-0 to 3-0, in a blink.
But the Caps were punchless and outhustled by the Pens and ended up trailing, 3-0, during the second period. A furious effort forced overtime, but the Caps were rarely better when playing five-on-five. Maybe Orpik provided the noose, but Washington didn't score well for much of the series. Indeed, winger T.J. Oshie scored six goals in 12 postseason games, and Alex Ovechkin tallied five. That was it. You don't go far in the postseason without more overall scoring production.
Was goalie Braden Holtby less effective against the Pens? A little, despite so many spectacular blocks. His third-period saves May 10 were amazing. But it doesn't take much to be beaten, and Holtby lost two overtime games on avoidable goals.
In the end, Caps fans may be disappointed, and rightfully so, that this wasn't finally the year to hoist the Stanley Cup. A die-hard support base of 43 years should get more than one brief shot at a championship, but that's the life of a Washington sports fan during the past generation. The Nationals, Wizards and Redskins sure haven't won any titles lately, either.
But at least the Caps didn't suffer another embarrassing playoff loss. No blown 2-0 or 3-1 series lead. The Caps played hard and fought back from a 3-1 series deficit to at least show some heart. It just wasn't big enough in Game 6 to force one more elimination game.
What can the Caps do during the offseason to stop these pointless playoff eliminations each spring? Not much. There's no missing piece, no new coaching style that will elevate Washington to a title. The Caps had everything they needed, except for a lucky bounce of the puck here and there.
One year, the Caps will catch that good fortune and get that Stanley. It's just not 2016.