The Boston Bruins’ Game 6 victory Sunday ensured a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final between Boston and the St. Louis Blues.
A series that no one saw coming is going to go the distance. Whatever happens on Wednesday, it will be a fitting ending to a crazy postseason. But as the playoffs draw to a close and we sit just one game away from a new champion being crowned, the question that haunts the city of Washington is this: Was this season a missed opportunity for the Capitals?
After the first round, the answer to this question seemed obvious.
The Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning were swept, as were the Pittsburgh Penguins — frequent foil of the Caps. On the other side of the bracket, division winners Calgary and Winnipeg also suffered early defeats. It especially stings considering that the Hurricanes were able to expose the Islanders — who would have been Washington’s second-round opponent — in a sweep. The conference final would have matched the Caps up with a Boston team they have dominated in recent years. Washington has won 14 of its last 15 contests against the Bruins.
Boston certainly took advantage of a suddenly wide-open bracket, as it lost only twice in the second and third round and blew through the rest of the conference.
As we are talking about the NHL, however, it is important to remember that had the Caps beaten Carolina in the first round, that is no guarantee they would be sitting where Boston is now playing the Blues for the Cup.
The Islanders would have proven a tougher matchup for Washington than Carolina because it would have meant facing former head coach Barry Trotz, who knows the Caps players as well as anyone and would have had his team prepared to matchup against them.
Tuukka Rask has been unreal for Boston in the playoffs, and Washington knows better than most how a hot goalie can turn a series. Then it would have meant playing a Blues team that has the feel of destiny about them after being dead last in the NHL on Jan. 3. St. Louis’ turnaround began that day with a win over… the Caps. In fact, the Blues dominated the Caps twice during their impressive turnaround.
So while Washington’s early playoff exit may sting, Caps fans can take at least some comfort in the fact that the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup Playoffs means that though a run to a second Cup was certainly possible, it was also far from guaranteed.
Still, knowing that the road to the Cup for the Caps in 2019 ran through Carolina, Brooklyn, Boston and St. Louis, that does not seem as nearly as daunting as the gauntlet Washington faced in their 2018 Cup run.
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