Thursday, April 28, 2011, 1:45 p.m.
By Ben Raby
CAPITALS PAGE CAPITALS VIDEO
The Capitals and Lightning have met once before in the playoffs, a six-game series won by Tampa Bay in 2003. It was a series to forget for the Caps, who blew a 2-0 series lead, failed to sell out any of their three home games at MCI Center and lost Game 6 in triple overtime shortly after Bruce Cassidys bunch was penalized for too many men on the ice. It was the second time in the series the Capitals lost in OT while shorthanded.
Shortly after the series, owner Ted Leonsis vented his frustration about the small crowds and the failure to advance past Round 1 with the veteran roster he had in place.
"The market has spoken,'' Leonsis said at the time."The truth of the matter was that we worked very, very hard to expand our fan base, and it was apparent we didn't capture the imagination of a broader base of fan.
"I don't think you'll see us being active in the free-agent market this summer,'' Leonsis said."Our payroll is high enough. We're certainly not going to increase our payroll, because there doesn't seem to be a correlation between wins and losses and attendance.''
Sure enough, within a year of the Caps' 2003 playoff exit, high-priced veterans Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Peter Bondra and Sergei Gonchar were traded and the Capitals rebuild was officially underway.
Among the returns in those deals was a prospect named Brooks Laich and a first-round draft pick that was used to select defenseman Mike Green.
The Caps, their fans and Leonsis are all reaping the benefits years later, with more than 100 straight sellouts at Verizon Center and a Stanley Cup-contending team built primarily through the draft.