Maybe last April's devastating loss to the Canadiens was a fluke.
A bounce here, a call (or non-call) there, a shaky hand that never steadied and the Caps would have been on to Round 2 with little attention paid to how difficult it was to get there (much like this year).
That wasn't to be, of course, but after two consecutive seasons of progress (yes, even including the post-season) and a regular season that set franchise records left and right, the team and its coach deserved some benefit of the doubt that the Montreal series was an anomaly or, at the very least, a learning experience.
This spring, they demonstrated that it was neither. This spring, they demonstrated that this is a team that is fundamentally flawed, both literally and figuratively. This spring, they demonstrated that changes need to be made.
From the unnuanced 30,000-foot view, it would seem that the loss to the Lightning (and any struggles that came before it) can be explained in one of two ways: either Bruce Boudreau had the wrong message, or he had the right one and was incapable of getting his players to execute it. Whichever it was, it's ultimately a poor reflection upon the coach - being an effective communicator and motivator is every bit as important as being an effective tactician and strategist here.
Actually, there's a third possible explanation, and it's potentially the most troubling of all. Perhaps it's the players - specifically the core players, in whom so many years and dollars are invested - who are simply incapable of receiving the message, insistent on freelancing and system-allergic. Bruce Boudreau could be the most brilliant hockey general to stand behind an NHL bench since Scotty Bowman, but if his charges are unable to process and execute his orders, the results won't reflect that acumen. But there's no way of knowing if that's the case without seeing how these players - most of whom have only played for Boudreau at the NHL level, at least since there were expectations heaped upon the team - respond to another voice, and the sooner the organization finds out what it has in the way-more-than-$100 million it has invested, the better.
To be sure, Bruce Boudreau isn't "The Problem" with the Washington Capitals. When a franchise suffers soul-crushing defeats in three-consecutive springs (or four, depending upon how easily one's soul is crushed), there's plenty of blame to go around. But, as the old sports cliché goes, you can't fire all the players, so it's usually the guy calling the shots who takes the fall. And in this case, that would probably be fair. Bruce Boudreau is a good coach and a great guy. But, for whatever reason, he's never been able to consistently extract from this Caps team a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts when it's mattered most. It's time to find someone who can.