The Washington Capitals' 2010-2011 season came crashing down tonight, as they fell 5-3 to the Lightning inside the St. Pete Times Forum. With the loss, the Bolts completed the four game sweep of Washington, making them the first number one seed ever to be swept in the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs, and only the third overall in any round. Marco Sturm, John Carlson, and John Erskine scored for the Caps, who won exactly one more game in the playoffs this year than last. And now, it's over. Time for golf. FORE!
The Lightning got off to a fast start, controlling play in the early stages and getting some chances on Michal Neuvirth that required nice plays to stop. About 5 minutes Sean Bergenheim crashed the net with authority and required Neuvirth to make another nice stop on the winger as Tampa Bay had DC on their heels early again. As the period continued, the Lightning continued to press on the Caps, who also made several bad turnovers and were being outshot 9-3 with 12 minutes left in the frame. At 8:59, Mike Knuble took a penalty for goalie interference after a little bit of Washington pressure and the Caps began a critical penalty kill. Tampa was not able to get much pressure early on their man advantage, and DC was able to kill it; however, Alex Ovechkin took an ill-advised charging minor at 11:14. After another solid beginning from the penalty killers, however, Ryan Malone cashed a pass from Vinny Lecavalier at 12:37 to put the Lightning up 1-0. DC tried to counter with some pressure and almost scored off the stick of Nicklas Backstrom, but then got a power play when Mattias Ohlund was called for cross-checking at 15:13. The man advantage continued to be a comedy of errors, however, and could not get anything going. Washington was awarded another power play soon after when Nate Thompson was boxed for goalie interference at 17:30, and Marco Sturm tied the game when he banged a puck past Roloson on the doorstep at 18:30. Tampa Bay came back with a press after the goal was scored, but DC was able to hold them off and the first period ended tied at 1.
Tampa Bay carried play in the opening moments of the second period as well, taking advantage of more soft play and bad turnovers by the Caps to establish a forecheck that had DC on their heels. After a rush up ice saw Michal Neuvirth make an initial save on the Bolts, Sean Bergenheim literally ripped the rebound from Sean Collins and buried it at 4:41 for another Tampa lead. The Lightning continued to press as the period continued and DC had no answer for them, constantly backing up on the attacking players and failing to get offense going. With about 11:30 remaining, Michal Neuvirth was forced to make a particularly nice save on Lecavalier after another poor turnover led to a 2-on-1. After a slow period where neither team really got much going, the Lightning capitalized on another rush up ice when Sean Bergenheim buried a rebound for another goal at 12:34 to put the Bolts up 3-1. Soon after however John Erskine gave the Caps some life when he scored from a nearly impossible angle at 13:40 to cut the deficit to 3-2. DC kept up some pressure after their goal but it was then predictably negated when Jeff Schultz was sent of for hooking at 15:24, but the away side was able to kill off the penalty. John Erskine took another one immediately following for delay of game with 2:36 left, but again were able to find a way to kill it off. The final 36 seconds of the period expired without incident, and the 2nd period ended with Tampa up 3-2.
Washington finally managed to get off to a strong start in the third period, as the top line created some chances early, but Roloson countered with some nice saves in order to keep the Lightning in front. Washington took another penalty at 3:42 when Marco Sturm was sent off for goalite interference. It did not take long for another goal to be scored, as† Marc-Andre Bergeron blasted a slapshot past Neuvirth to put the dagger in the Caps at 5:07, giving the Bolts a 4-2 lead. As the period wore on, Tampa Bay put the game into total shutdown mode, not giving the Capitals anything to even sniff at as their crowd began to chant "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!" Inside six minutes remaining, the Caps began to use four forwards and one defenseman in a desperate last gasp, but Martin St. Louis totally buried the Caps with 3:08 remaining to make it 5-2. Boudreau pulled his goalie with over 3 minutes left, and John Carlson scored to make it 5-3 with 2:06 left, but by that time it was far too little, far too late. Lightning win, 5-3. Season over.
Another season, more heartbreak. I actually thought they might have finally figured it out, but once again, I was proven wrong. The Caps brought in new, veteran players. They learned how to play defense (or so I thought). Young players matured. New system? Same results. The Capitals lacked fire all series and it showed. The result? Utter humiliation and domination by a team far superior to them in every way.
There were many reasons for this sweep, but the number one reason has got to be the "defense" or lack thereof. Literally every key Tampa goal in this series was caused by a lack of or soft coverage on obvious players such as Vinny Lecavalier, who just happens to make ten million dollars a season. The Caps abandoned the system completely, and they paid for it. Again. Dearly.
Fi-yer Booo-drow. More on this later, but I highly doubt that Bruce Boudreau will be the head coach of the Washington Capitals for much longer than a day or two following this debacle. He is obviously a good coach, he has won at every level, but this is four years in a row of losing in the playoffs, often in spectacular fashion. This is also less of an opinion and more of a prediction, just for the record. Something must be done.
I have no idea what the schedule is. The Caps will have end-of-the-year media availability sometime before the end of the week, and then they, and we, will have another long summer to think about what could have been.