In the end, the Caps were a pretty good, but flawed, team. Even after last night's playoff-ending loss, there's optimism.
The sustained chanting and cheering at the end of last night's game weren't just an appreciation of what's happened this season, but an outpouring of hope for the coming seasons. The Great Eight and Mike Green give them an offensive/defensive combo to build around. And the playoffs saw the potential emergence of another piece, goalie Simeon Varlamov.
Yesterday certainly wasn't his finest game. But for a kid who coming into this season had played as many NHL games as you have, the run he gave the Caps is something all will remember.
The funny thing, though, is that we have Brent Johnson's hip to thank for it.
The Caps backup had hip surgery in early February, ahead of the NHL trading deadline. With him out of the way for a few months, the Caps had a decision to make. Would they trade for a backup? Hope that Johnson's wonky hip would let him come back? Or would they show confidence in Theo and hope the kids could back him up?
We know now that they made the right decision.
At times the Iron Curtain looked as good as anyone. His Game 3 performance, which the Caps lost in OT, was amazing. He kept the team in a game that they had no business winning, thanks to his acrobatic saves and quick reflexes. And Caps fans will certainly remember his diving stick save off Sid Crosby in Game 1.
He's still a bit raw at times, but the athleticism and reflexes are there. Going forward, he's shown that he's certainly capable of being the guy.
If Varlamov keeps developing, the Caps are certainly well poised to make a deeper run next season, with just a few tweaks at the margins here and there.
The loss stings, of course. But going forward, most fans should be smiling.
Chris Needham used to write Capitol Punishment. He'll be watching both games tonight.