Let's just blame Bruce Boudreau. The former Caps coach showed this week he still has that playoff bugaboo going, as his No. 2 seed Anaheim Ducks were dumped in a Game 7 by the Detroit Red Wings.
Surely, we can find a way to place some of this on Jose Theodore. Was Scott Hannan responsible for another bad line change?
Isn't that what we do in this town, blame the previous regime?
Manny Acta must have been around for the Nats' start. Bob Ferry must still be pressing some buttons for the Wizards. Jim Zorn, clearly, helped make the decision to leave RG3 in too long in the playoffs.
But, seriously folks, totally blaming the past for the Caps' latest playoff folly, a 5-0 debacle in Game 7 on Monday, is unfair and a discredit to the victorious Rangers. Down 2-0 in the series, they won four of the final five games. First-year Caps coach Adam Oates got a bit of schoolin' from counterpart John Tortorella. Snippy though he may be, "Torts" is a proven coach with a Stanley Cup on his resume and a 5-1 record in Game 7s. It helps that the Rangers have a brick wall in net in Henrik Lundqvist. But the Caps put three by him in each of the first two games in New York and still lost.
That the Rangers may be a smidge better is not arguable. Five-oh better? No way. That a tight series became a laugher in the finale can be, in part, blamed on the Caps' ugly playoff past. There's not an elephant in that room. There's a herd of them in there and it is not an easy thing to clear out.
Karl Alzner, the Caps defenseman who is a stand-up guy in victory and defeat, is honest enough to acknowledge that thought exists.
"A little bit," he said after Game 7. "I don't know if that's the right mentality. I'm sure it's not the right mentality. But we all play this game to win and when you see one year after another year disappointments — and I know it's only been three playoffs for me. Still, from the guys that have played the game ... Mike Knuble, one of the guys, would tell us that you blink and the next thing you know you're in the last couple of years and you haven't made it to the finals even.
"You don't want to see the time tick away. You want to get a taste of it before you're done. So I hopefully have a long time. But, yeah, I've thought about it."
How can he not? Professional athletes may be way more gifted physically than the masses. Mentally, most are the same as everyone else. Tell yourself not to think about elephants for two minutes, then try to actually do it.
One disappointment isn't so bad. Take the Nationals for example. Blowing a 6-0 lead and losing Game 5 to the Cardinals in last year's National League Division Series stings. If they make the playoffs again and win, all is forgotten. But suppose it happens again? The hurdle gets a little higher and a little tougher to clear with each passing failure.
The Caps have built themselves the Mount Everest of hurdles.
They've had their moments, though all those moments seem to do is escalate the tease and make the disappointment that much harder to take. The full list is too long to include, though there are plenty of recent examples.
In 2009, they beat the Rangers and the esteemed Lundqvist in the first round. They won the final three, scoring 11 goals combined. Then they took Pittsburgh to seven games and got smashed 6-2 at home. Five of the previous six were one-goal games, three were OT. And then that?
The next year may have been the worst. The Caps had more points during the regular season than any team in hockey. They flew out to a 3-1 lead against Montreal in their first series. They scored 17 goals in their three victories. And then three total in losing the next three and the series.
A year later, Washington dumped the Rangers (and Lundqvist) in five games. Maybe this would be the year they defeated the herd? Hold that thought. The Caps were swept in the next series by Tampa Bay.
Enough of that pain. You get the idea.
"Yeah, there's no point in talking about it," Caps winger Eric Fehr said. "We're living right now and we lost. That's it."
That's it, again. Or again and again and again, whatever you prefer.
What's the answer?
"Maybe learn how to play in the playoffs, I would say," center Nicklas Backstrom said.
If only it were that easy. Elephants can be cleared out of the room. Ask baseball's Boston Red Sox. They overcame the "Curse of the Bambino" and have won the World Series twice in the past decade. You can overcome your past. It just gets harder and harder every time you add another sad chapter.
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