The Caps will have to go through a tougher division to make the playoffs and then to reach the East finals. They won the Southeast Division five of the past six seasons but went 8-10-2 against the Penguins, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Flyers and Hurricanes this year.
Perhaps the early struggles and late run to the playoffs should have been predictable for a rookie head coach, especially given the lockout and shortened training camp. In looking back at his first season running a team, Adam Oates might take all summer to hone his craft for next year and beyond.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin knows full well that his playoff failures are adding up.
Scoring 23 goals in 23 games, he was the reason the Caps' season turned around. But totaling just a goal and an assist in seven games against the New York Rangers made him the focal point of yet another early playoff exit.
Holtby proceeded to stop all 29 shots he faced the rest of the game, and the Capitals’ offense matched that production in Washington’s 3-1 win. It was a promising start to Holtby’s second career playoff appearance and an extension of how well he played during the Capitals’ late-season run to the Southeast Division championship.
After a victory late in the regular season that included two goals by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom was asked if it felt like the "good old days" when the franchise cornerstones powered a high-scoring team. "It depends how it is in the playoffs," he said. "And we weren't that successful in the playoffs in the past."
The Capitals' reputation as a team that can't get it done in the playoffs is well-established. Here's a look at how each playoff exit happened, with some help from ex-coach Bruce Boudreau.
Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane are as good as hockey players get. Their teammates are pretty good, too.
"Obviously, we have a little bit of history with them," right wing Eric Fehr said. "We've played them a number of times. It's going to be a man's series, no question. They've got a lot of big guys, and they like to play physical. It's a good challenge for us."