Was it a dream? Unfortunately it was not as the Washington Capitals, the NHL’s best team in the regular season, got ousted once again by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 in a overtime 4-3. This makes them 1-8 all-time in series vs. Pittsburgh.
The Caps have not been very successful in the playoffs since 1998, the first and only time they made the Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup Finals. Let’s take a look at the playoff history since then.
1997-1998 : Washington mows through the playoffs past the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators to get to the Eastern Conference Finals against Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres. The Caps win the series 4-2 and get into the Stanley Cup Finals, where they are swept by the juggernaut Detroit Red Wings.
1999-2000; 2000-2001 : The Capitals made the playoffs by winning the Southeast Division two years in a row after missing out in 1998-1999. In the quarterfinals, they played the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won both series 4-1 and 4-2 respectively.
In the Summer of 2001, the Capitals went all in and traded three prospects to the Pittsburgh Penguins for five-time Art Ross trophy winner Jaromir Jagr. We all know how that went.
2002-2003 : After missing the playoffs the previous year, the Caps were in as a wildcard. Playing in the quarterfinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they lost the series 4-2 and then proceeded to not make the playoffs for the next four seasons (including the lockout).
In 2004, Jagr was sent to the New York Rangers. The Capitals ended this season 23–46–10–3, good for second to last in the NHL. With the NHL Draft Lottery, the Capitals won the overall number one spot over the worst team in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and chose a legend: Alexander Ovechkin.
2004-2005 : NHL LOCKOUT – NO PLAYOFFS
2007-2008 : After four seasons of no playoff hockey, the Caps hired Bruce Boudreau as their head coach. They proceeded to win the Southeast division and take on the Philadelphia Flyers in the Quarterfinals. A hard fought series, the Caps went in with a new goaltender Cristobal Huet. After being down 3-1 in the series, the Caps made a valiant effort but lost the series 4-3.
2008-2009 : With Huet gone and Kolzig signing with Tampa Bay, the Caps signed free agent Jose Theodore as their goaltender. Trading off between Theodore and Semyon Varlamov, the Caps won the Southeast Division and were scheduled to play Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. For the first time since 1998, the Caps won the opening round series 4-3 before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in the semi-finals.
2009-2010 : The Caps had their best season yet, winning the President’s Trophy with 121 points as the leagues best team. Behind Theodore and Michal Neuvirth, the Caps drew a pesky Montral Canadiens team with Jaroslav Halak in net. Halak stonewalled the Caps and sent the best team home in round one 4-3.
2010-2011 : With Varly and Neuvy trading off, the Caps locked up best team in the Eastern Conference with 107 points. They proceeded to take out the New York Rangers 4-1 but came up against a buzz saw in round two as the Tampa Bay Lightning swept the Caps 4-0.
2011-2012 : Still unsure of the goaltender situation, the Caps signed Tomas Vokoun to a one year deal. After firing Bruce Boudreau part way into the season, the Caps hired former enforcer Dale Hunter to the job. They finished second in the Southeast and played the Boston Bruins, 2011’s Stanley Cup Champ. With Neuvirth and Vokoun both injured, Braden Holtby got his shot as starting goaltender for round one. The Caps had a hard fought series against goaltender Tim Thomas but Holtby and the Caps outlasted with 4-3. In round two, the Caps ran into the New York Rangers hot Henrik Lundqvist and lost the series 4-3. Hunter announced he was “stepping down” as coach.
2012-2013 : Another former Cap Adam Oates was named head coach before yet another NHL lockout occurred.
2014-2015 : After a dismal 2013-2014 season, the Caps fired Adam Oates and General Manager George McPhee. They introduced new head coach Barry Trotz, formerly of the Nashville Predators. Getting the team to buy in to his philosophy, Trotz and the Caps gave Braden Holtby the reigns to the starting job and finished second in the newly crowned Metropolitan Division. They played the New York Islanders in round one and won that series 4-3. In the second round, the Caps played familiar foe the New York Rangers. Behind Lundqvist, the Caps lost the series 4-3.
2015-2016 : The Caps have a record-breaking season, finishing with 120 points, the most wins by a Caps team in history (56) and the President’s Trophy. They come up against a pesky Philadelphia Flyers team that came back in the series after the Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the series. But the Caps put them away 4-2 and went to the next round. Playing their nemesis from Pittsburgh, the Caps faltered and went down 3-1 in the series before forcing a Game 6 and losing the series to the Pens.
It has now been 18 years since the Capitals have gotten past round two.
So what next for the Capitals? First you have to decide what you want to do to the team: a total rebuild or address your needs in certain areas, like a scoring forward and better defensemen on the backend. Whatever the decision, the team has nearly four months to think about it and get ready for pre-season in September.
(Stats Courtesy of NHL.com)
Written by Christopher Johnson, Photos by Brittney Marcum