Reporting David Elfin
If you have neighbors who opened their windows last night and channeled the late Peter Finch of “Network” fame by screaming, “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore,” don’t worry.
They’re just Caps fans. And who can blame them?
It has been eight years since Caps owner Ted Leonsis and general manager George McPhee broke up the veteran team that couldn’t get it done in the playoffs by trading such stars as Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra and Sergei Gonchar. That came after a postseason loss that ended with a goal by Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis.
Last night’s postseason-ending loss to the Lightning that was capped by St. Louis’ goal was in some ways even more frustrating because it marked the fourth straight spring in which the Caps exited in a series in which they were the favorites, the second in a row where they were the top seed in the East.
After three straight years of agonizing Game 7 defeats at home, Washington opted for humiliation this time, getting swept by a Tampa Bay team against which it had gone 4-1-1 during the season.
So the question is how do Leonsis and McPhee react? In the NHL, more than in any other sport, the usual move is to change the man behind the bench, the idea being that not only is it harder to trade multiple players than to fire the coach but that he can no longer get through to them emotionally.
But should Leonsis and McPhee really ax Bruce Boudreau, whose regular season winning percentage (.679) is the best for any coach with at least 250 NHL games, because he’s 2-4 in playoff series, all of which his team was favored?
That can be argued, but Boudreau may have done his best coaching this season in righting the ship after a stunning eight-game losing streak in December by agreeing with McPhee that the Caps needed to become more defensive-minded. Washington rebounded to win its fourth straight Southeast Division crown thanks to its new style. And just two weeks ago, these same Caps cruised past the New York Rangers 4-1 for the franchise’s most convincing playoff victory in 13 years.
Five of the players who skated in the 2009 postseason comeback triumph over the Rangers – Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom – will still be 28 or younger come the start of the 2011-12 season. Rising defensive pair Karl Alzner and John Carlson (the only Cap other than The Great 8 with more than one goal against the Lightning) and goalie Michal Neuvirth will be 23, 21 and 23, respectively.
So while I would trade the long-frustrating Semin for a fellow talented underachiever, this is still a team with a young core, most of which is under contract long-term.
There’s no arguing that the Caps have been maddening in April and May, but their success from October-March isn’t all about Ovechkin and Co. Boudreau has played a pivotal role.
And for those fans who were yelling to the sky last night, here are two facts to consider:
1) Boston didn’t fire coach Claude Julien after the Bruins blew a 3-0 lead and lost to Philadelphia last spring and is now one victory from having home ice advantage in the Eastern finals against Tampa Bay.
2) During the four springs prior to Boudreau’s arrival in the fall of 2007, the Caps won just two playoff games, not two playoff series.
Close the windows and let cooler heads prevail.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.