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Dale Hunter steps down as Capitals coach

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Washington Capitals said Monday that Dale Hunter will not return as coach, two days after the club was eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 7 of the eastern Conference Semifinals.

Hunter informed general manager George McPhee of his decision Monday morning, just hours before the team met for the final time this season. According to McPhee, Hunter wanted to spend more time with his family and return to London, Ont., to help run the family business, the London Knights.

"I've been home for awhile there [in London]," Hunter said. "Everybody is a part of the team there, the farm is there, so we're all a part of it there and something you've just got to go home."

The Knights, incidentally, are in the Memorial Cup, which begins Friday in Shawinigan, Que. But Hunter says he will not step back behind the bench, allowing his brother, Mark, to finish the job he inherited when Dale left for the Caps.

"I'm a fan this week," Hunter said.

Hunter left his post as Knights coach to replace Bruce Boudreau in November. The 51-year-old Hunter, who starred with the Caps for a dozen years as a player, did not ask for a multi-year contract when he took over the job in D.C.

Hunter went 30-23-7 during the regular season, with the Capitals splitting a pair of seven-game series in the playoffs. Washington was eliminated on Saturday against the New York Rangers. Washington reshaped its identity during those 14 games, changing from a run-and-gun club to one that concentrated more on defense.

As a result, Washington was much more competitive against Boston and the Rangers, both much higher-seeded teams, but had trouble scoring. Every one of Washington's postseason games this spring was decided by a goal, including the 2-1 loss Saturday that ended the season.

"I came in with a different philosophy but the work ethic and the commitment and for the players to go on the ice and do what they did, for down the stretch to make the playoffs," Hunter said. "We had two rounds of the playoffs, but down the stretch [of the regular season] it was like the playoffs for a month and a half where we were desperate. But the guys were committed to making the playoffs and then they committed to do well in the playoffs. We took a very good team to Game 7 and anything could have happened."

Hunter leaves believing the Caps are a better team for the short time he spent behind the bench.

"I think they all bought in because we had to battle," Hunter said. "It wasn't just the playoffs, we battled before and it takes a lot -- guys playing hurt and bruised up -- and it hurts. But again, I'm proud of them and it's sacrifice and this is how you win championships -- with players like that."

McPhee also said Monday that forward Jay Beagle, who played a huge role this postseason, suffered a broken foot in Game 5 against the Rangers and will require surgery. He did not play the final two games of the series.

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