The Washington Capitals were the best team in hockey this year. They won the Presidents Trophy and were expected to reach the Stanley Cup Final and, in all likelihood, win it.
Yes, despite a phenomenal regular season, the Capitals once again suffered an early playoff exit, this time losing a second-round series to the Penguins in six games. All four losses came by one goal. The final two came in overtime.
If the Capitals couldn’t get over the hump this year, when will they? Or better yet, will they at all?
No one knows.
“I don’t think we’re going to see many changes when it comes to their roster,” former NHL player and current Hockey Night in Canada analyst Nick Kypreos told John Jastremski, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They’re going to tweak a little bit. I really thought that they needed to maybe add another mobile defenseman. That didn’t happen and they had to go with what they had. Certainly you can’t knock (Alex) Ovechkin. In years past, you could, but he bought in in many different ways and I thought he had a good series. Did he have a spectacular one against Pittsburgh? No. But neither did Sid (Sidney Crosby). He hung in there as best he could, but when it was all said and done, they’re just not ready. They’re just not ready.”
The Penguins will face Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, while St. Louis and San Jose will meet in the Western Conference Finals. The Blues and Sharks won their respective Game 7s against Dallas and Nashville by five goals apiece.
“It just seems that San Jose has gotten stronger and stronger,” Kypreos said. “St. Louis has always been a team in the Western Conference that we sat there and questioned why haven’t they gotten over the hump? Both these teams coming into the Western Conference Final look like they’re destined, but one of them can’t move on to a Stanley Cup Final. I really think it’s a pick-em series.”
The series could hinge on the play of Brent Burns, who has four goals and 11 assists in the playoffs.
“Maybe I would give San Jose an edge with Brent Burns,” Kypreos said. “(Alex) Pietrangelo, (Jay) Bouwmeester – they’ve got some big boys back there that can shut down top players. That’s going to be the challenge here. I find San Jose the faster team and I find St. Louis a team that’s going to have to find a way to nullify that speed through the neutral zone. But again, (Kevin) Shattenkirk is a guy that can get some points on the power play, but I don’t see anyone that can really truly take over a hockey game like a Brent Burns right now. I think he’s the X-Factor.”