Or at least it seems that way. The Caps dropped another one tonight. The Caps have generally outplayed the Lightning pretty significantly in all three games. They blew it a couple of times in the second game with bad line changes (I think this is yet another example of Boudreau getting out-coached) that led to Lightning goals. And again, tonight, they outplayed the Lightning through two periods.
But they laid one of their worst goose-eggs of the season in the third period, allowing two more goals and a multitude of scoring chances while getting almost no chances of their own. If Neuvy hadn't played very well, they would have allowed two more goals, in fact. It was just butt-ugly.
Unfortunately, the memory of that has just about obliterated my memories of the excellent first two periods. OV was a beast through there, generating chances for himself and others. MarJo played very well also, and looked especially good on the PK. And again, Neuvy played very well.
But the end result is that their backs are hard up against the wall, and they need to win four in a row to advance (which would make them only the fourth team in NHL history to do so, I believe). I see no reason to believe they have it in them; Tampa just seems to want it much more. I do think the Caps will come out with a will, and win tomorrow night (a blowout wouldn't even surprise me) and maybe one more after that, but I think they're done. It's a very disappointing way to see them go; I really thought they'd handle the Bolts.
Boudreau made some good adjustments against the Lightning earlier in the season, but has not been able to handle Boucher's counter-adjustments. I don't know where we go from here.
In fact, despite his record in the regular season (really, it's a fabulous record; there's no question) I've got to wonder if Gabby has reached the limits of that of which he's capable. He made some good adjustments to his system this season, but I'm wondering if the results aren't as much due to better personnel as to those tactical changes.
McPhee... I've been pretty hard on him in the past (probably not in print) largely due to not drafting well until about five years ago. But he's learned, and drafted well recently (other than the Gustafsson debacle), and did a very good job with in-season trades this year. I'm not sure that we even want to bring back Arnott or Sturm, although I'm happy that Wideman will stick around for another year.
I do really like the look of the defense for next year. I hope we'll hold onto Hannan, although he'll have to take a pay cut to make that work. The rest of the corps is set, and solid. That's something on which to build.
Up front, there are a lot more question marks. I was skeptical of the idea of re-signing Knuble, but that ship has sailed. And, I suppose, at the salary agreed, it wasn't a bad deal.
I think we have to let one of Bradley or Hendricks go; Hendricsk being signed already kind of settles that issue, despite his post-season disappearing act. But the big question, as last year, is what to do down the middle. MarJo stays, obviously; the only question is whether he's 2C or 3C. Can he handle 2C? I'm not sure; give him another year, and I'm sure the answer's yes. But next year?
If the answer is yes, then it becomes pretty simple: slot him at 2C, and hand 3C to Matty P. Hopefully, with another offseason to bulk up (and maybe some improved effort, especially on back-checking) he can handle it. He's looked brilliant at times, but needs to look it far more often. And there is one more issue with this configuration; they're terrible on the dot, meaning that Nicky gets far more D-zone draws than we would like leading to far fewer scoring chances for him and OV.
But if the answer of MarJo at 2C is no, then you're pretty well stuck with a trade or free-agent signing. I hope Richards is out of the question, but I'm not sure who else you consider. I guess at that point you could think about bringing Arnott back for one more season, although I'm not sure that isn't a matter of "the Devil you know, rather than the one you don't".
There's also the question of Brooks Laich. You want to bring him back, but can that happen for a low enough salary to be feasible? I guess you could play at making him 3C, but I'm not sold on that idea.
I dunno... Time to stop this mental roster-bation, I think. Let's first see if we can win a game or two first. If not, then I can give this some more thought, and look up some of the available options.