- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2011

TAMPA, Fla. | Mike Knuble stared off into space and talked about how difficult a time this is as a hockey player. Others just didn’t have any answers.

The Washington Capitals’ season is over because of a 5-3 loss and a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning – just like that.

“I don’t really know what to say. We got swept,” veteran forward Matt Bradley said. “I thought we played well, but I think throughout the whole series they were the hungrier team, and they did little things to win the games and they won all of them.”

But the Caps, despite struggles including an eight-game losing streak, turned things around and finished first in the Eastern Conference. Why it all fell apart in the second round of the playoffs – after a five-game series victory over the New York Rangers – is a mystery.

“I don’t know. It’s tough to say. Playoff hockey’s completely different from the regular season,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Everybody steps it up. Right now, it’s tough to say. You don’t want to say anything stupid right now ‘cause I think emotions are playing a big part, but I think we just came up a little bit short.”

Many of the answers the Caps summoned included praising the Lightning. Coach Bruce Boudreau pointed out how Tampa Bay was just four points back during the regular season and brought more offense than he had seen for a while.

“I can’t question our effort. It was there every night,” Knuble said. “You have to give them credit. They played well, and they held their own when they had to and really when they got their chances, they capitalized.”

Ultimately, this is about the Caps’ inability to win in the playoffs, too. Last year’s second-round exit to the Montreal Canadiens was stunning because of Washington’s dominant season; this was shocking because of just how quickly it all happened.

Less than a week ago, there was talk of the Stanley Cup. Now there’s talk about Boudreau possibly losing his job and major changes.

“It’s very disappointing, obviously. The season’s over. We don’t’ measure ourselves by where we finish in the regular season, anything like that,” forward Brooks Laich said. “You measure yourself by the ultimate goal. When you don’t achieve it, it’s tough to take and tough to accept that you’re not quite there yet.”

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