Getting to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs really was not the goal of the Capitals. If it was, why be in this tournament in the first place. But the expectation to take that next step for this team has been taken. Making the second round the Capitals did meet their expectation level, even if they feel they could have (and should have) gone farther.
"We're very close to being a good team and maybe all it is is a little bit more maturity in some areas and I think we'll be able to make that step," Bruce Boudreau said. "I believe next year, I would be very disappointed if we weren't in the final four."
What may be more painful than a game seven let down, was the two games to none lead the Capitals enjoyed earlier in the series against Pittsburgh. They had the Penguins frustrated and making mistakes. Besides a few key saves, Marc-Andre Fleury was ripe for the picking. The Caps were scoring goals, they were making strides against a very good team. But they just couldn't translate it into some wins.
"It's good steps for us for sure," Alex Ovechkin said. "We take the good experience and take the bad experience. We can't play like we played when we got a lead 2-0. We have to make a little bit more push and everybody now knows we were so close, but close is not good enough."
Now the Caps have some motivation. And they will have some key returning players. Mike Green, Tom Poti, John Erskine and Brian Pothier are all still under contract for next year for the defense. The Caps will keep Ovi, Alex Semin, Micheal Nylander, Nick Backstrom, captain Chris Clark, Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley, Tomas Fleischmann and Dave Steckel.
There is still quite a bit of work to do for the off season. Key players that could be lost are Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov and Donald Brashear who are unrestricted free agents this off season. Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina with restricted free agent status for the summer.
Kozlov would be the biggest loss as he shared time on the top line and some chemistry with Ovi. His size and stick handling skills seemed to create offense deep in the offensive zone for the Caps. Kozzy racked only 13 goals and 41 points for the regular season and struggled with injuries through out the year.
Another big loss could be Morrisonn on the back end. While he hasn't set the world ablaze on the blue line, Mo had put together a solid season and had good games in both post season series with his defensive play. Morrisonn is a restricted free agent this summer, but the Caps are so deep in defensemen he might be one of the sacrificial lambs for younger talent.
The Caps have plenty of good things down the pipeline. Defenseman Karl Alzner, goaltender Micheal Neuvirth and forward Oskar Osala makes for a bright tomorrow. The tough choice is who to replace to give their younger talent a chance. It should be a very active off season for George McPhee.