Eight reasons the Caps crapped out

Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin reacts as the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate their series...

Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin reacts as the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate their series victory 4-0 after Game 4 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey game in Tampa, Florida May 4, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Carlson)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:07 AM ET

The general manager says the coach is safe.


The owner says he expects his team's fans to be "emotional, angry and demand change."


Yes, the investigation of the car crash that is the Washington Capitals is only just beginning.


A team that has averaged 107 points over the past four regular-seasons now has the well-earned reputation of being putrid in the post season.
The latest exit may have been the worse yet, a four-game sweep at the hands of a still-learning Tampa Bay Lightning squad that was supposed to be weary and outclassed.


"Their highest-paid players outplayed our highest-paid players," owner Ted Leonsis wrote Thursday on his blog, Ted's Take. "In fact, their role players outplayed our highest-paid players."


That the Lightning did so despite having been worn down by a seven-game series with the Pittsburgh Penguins then jumping into Round 2 with four games in six nights against the Caps only adds to the indictment of the losers.


The morning after the sweep, Washington's failure sure must seem ugly for general manager George McPhee and coach Bruce Boudreau.


Since 1999, the only team the Caps have knocked off in the post-season is the New York Rangers, and this week they became the first No. 1 seed since the conference playoff format began in 1994 to be swept in a first- or second-round series.


"The wheels fell off for us, no doubt about that," Leonsis wrote about Round 2, which ended Wednesday night with a 5-3 Lightning win.
As for the why the Capitals crapped out, here -- in (dis)honour of the not so Great 8, Alex Ovechkin -- are eight possible reasons:


1. ASK OVIE


The captain did manage 10 points in nine playoff games, but there are serious questions about his leadership ability.


Yes, he is one of the greatest players in the NHL, capable of tilting a game in his team's favour on a whim. But Ovechkin doesn't seem to make the players around him better as so many of hockey's great leaders do.


"We were hungry, we just did not win," Ovechkin said after Game 4. "We want to win, they want to win but somebody has to lose."


Somebody has to lose? Hard to imagine Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby taking a gutting loss with such a shrug of the shoulders. Until Ovechkin makes more of an impact than the occasional big hit or flashy goal, his reputation will be lacking.


2. BLAME THE COACH


Boudreau is shouldering plenty of the blame for the loss and there's a possibility he will be made the scapegoat, a move essentially denied Thursday by McPhee: "I expect him to be back, he's a good coach."


The tough part for Boudreau is that following four big regular seasons, he has coached his team to only two series wins and never beyond the second round. He has a post-season record that is now a sore-thumb 17-20.


But how much should he be held responsible for some of the high-paid stiffs he had to send over the boards?


"Any criticisms toward the coaches is totally unjust," Caps defenceman Brooks Laich said.


Getting in on the fun, online sports book Bodog is taking money on whether Boudreau will get the axe with "Yes" being the heavy (-150) favourite.


3. LIGHTNING STRIKES


The incredible play of the Lightning third line completely buried the Caps. This should never happen to good teams, but the trio of Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore and Steve Downie seemed to score at will in the series and was the deciding factor in three of the games.
Together, they combined for 12 points.


"The minutes those guys played are dominating minutes," Lightning veteran Marty St. Louis said Thursday. "And that's deflating for another team, when they are getting beat by a third line."


4. NICKLAS BACKSTROM


At least Ovechkin did something, but this guy may have been the joke of the series.


Signed to a bank-breaking 10-year contract, Backstrom had just two assists in the Caps playoff "run," confirming himself to be a player who can pile up points during the season but disappear at money time.


"I wasn't as good as I should be, but it was so (bleeping) frustrating," said Backstrom, who disappeared in a playoff booting to Montreal last year as well. "I take full responsibility for not being that good."


5. ALEX SEMIN


See above.


Semin neverseemed engaged and was one of those "highest-paid players" that the Caps needed a return on.


Feel free to include defenceman Mike Green in this group, although he was injured and didn't play in Game 4. He was a liability defensively in the games he did play.


6.  BOUNCES


Sure it's an excuse, but the Bolts did seem to have an untoward number go their way, especially early in the series.


A lucky break the other way may have spurred the Capitals to compete, but really it shouldn't come to that. And in the third period of Game 3 and most of Game 4, the Lightning was clearly the better, more driven team.


7. DEFENCE WINS


By trying to be more responsible defensively in the hope of avoiding precisely just what happened, the Caps throttled down some of their offence during the second half of the season.


As a result, when it was time to turn it on against the Lightning (admittedly a tough challenge defensively) the Caps couldn't kick it up again.
"We seemed to lose a gear," McPhee said.


8. CHARACTER


An overused word at this time of year if there ever was one, it was a relevant intangible in this series, however. The Lightning, forced to play five games in eight nights, seemed far more inspired and energized than the Caps, particularly late in games.


In fact, the supposedly high-powered Caps were outscored 6-2 in the four third periods.


"The character of our players surpassed the lack of energy they might have had," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca
twitter.com/longleysunsport


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