It's a day later, but the sting is still there for Caps fans, even if the pains aren't as sharp as they were. Perhaps the blowout loss in Game 7 helps. There's no single "what if" moment from that game that fans can point to, just a series of breakdowns, bad bounces, and tired play.
It's still early enough that fans are both looking back and looking ahead.
Perhaps the most positive outcome, John Feinstein argues, is that DC is now a hockey town. As he says, "[t]here is a difference between being a hockey town and being a town with a winning hockey team... The Redskins will always be this area's obsession, but the Caps are here to stay as an important part of Washington's sports culture. The fans who poured out in droves all winter aren't going away. They're all-in now, and they know that this team is going to compete at the top levels for years."
While Game 7 provided no true "what ifs", the series as a whole had some. Japer's Rink provides a few: Should Boudreau have rested the fading Varlamov on the back-to-back game? If Mike Green wasn't healthy enough -- so much so that the team benched him in the final game -- should they have relied on him so much?
Going forward, the Caps need to answer the generalities that underlie those questions, and the Post asks some of those questions.
What do they do with goalie? Jose Theodore and his big contract are still kicking around, as is Brent Johnson. What can they do to improve a defensive corps that completely broke down in the Penguins series? They really need a physical presence there to knock some heads and clear some pucks.
There'll be more questions in the future, and the off-season's still a long way away. But like Feinstein said, there's plenty of hope and reason for optimism.
Chris Needham used to write Capitol Punishment. He's rooting for the Canes and Penguins to both lose.