The Washington Capitals have been eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
The Caps, who held a two-games-to-one series lead over the Florida Panthers, had numerous chances throughout the series, but simply failed to rise to the occasion when given ample opportunities. Washington held a lead in Game 4, 5 and 6, but the President’s Trophy-winning Panthers were able to battle back in all three contests and will now advance to the second round while the Capitals are once again faced with difficult decisions after a hasty exit.
“You have to shut down teams,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “I don’t know what else to say. It’s obviously on us. It’s disappointing.”
Priority number one for general manager Brian MacLellan this offseason needs to be upgrading the goaltending situation. Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek are both restricted free agents and either could be a solid backup next season. But neither has shown they can be the unquestioned starter for a veteran team in ‘win-now’ mode.
Beyond the netminders, MacLellan has difficult choices to make with the top half of the roster as well. Backstrom clearly wasn’t himself this season as he battled through a hip injury. T.J. Oshie broke his foot early in the season, tried to play through it and ended up dealing with lingering back issues because of it. Alex Ovechkin entered the postseason with a left shoulder injury that caused him to miss the final three games of the regular season. Tom Wilson suffered a significant knee injury in the opening minutes of the playoffs and would not have been cleared to return to action even if Washington had been able to advance to the second round.
Will each of these core players be able to fully recover and remain productive for an aging Capitals team desperate to make one final run at glory? Or is this franchise in dire need of a more radical overhaul if the goal is to do anything more than simply qualify for the postseason at this point?