Monday, April 24, 2011, 12:23 p.m.
By Ben Raby
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The Caps returned to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex Monday morning for an optional skate, still glowing from Saturdays series-clinching win against the Rangers.
The Capitals eliminated New York in five games, winning a series in fewer than seven games for the first time since 1998. Bruce Boudreau admitted after Saturdays 3-1 win that he wasnt quite sure how he would react to a few days off in the playoffs without knowing who the Caps would play next.
Two days later, the Caps still dont know when their second-round series will begin or who it will be against. The Capitals will find out Tuesday night at the earliest, or Wednesday night at the latest. Four possible second-round opponents remain:
Buffalo Sabres: Had the Sabres held on to a 3-1 second period lead and beaten the Flyers Sunday in Buffalo, the Caps second-round matchup would be set. Instead, Ville Leino scored 4 minutes and 43 seconds into overtime and the Flyers escaped Buffalo with a 5-4 OT win, evening the series at 3-3.
Game 7 is Tuesday night in Philadelphia, and the Sabres are expected to have center Derek Roy back in the lineup. Roy has not played since Dec. 23 because of a quad tear that required surgery. He was the Sabres leading scorer at the time of his injury.
Roys return could boost a Buffalo offense that has lost top-six forwards Jason Pominville and Tim Connelly in each of the past two games. Vezina Trophy winning goalie Ryan Miller has won a pair of 1-0 games in the series.
Season Series: The Capitals went 3-0-1 against the Sabres this season, winning twice at home and once in Buffalo. The Caps won their last meeting, 5-4 in OT at Verizon Center April 2, a game which saw Jason Arnott net the tying goal in the final minute of regulation before Alex Ovechkin beat Jhonas Enroth in the extra frame.
What Needs to Happen: If the Sabres win in Philadelphia Tuesday night, the Capitals will face Buffalo in the second round.
Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens seemed well on their way to winning a first-round series for the second straight season, jumping out to a 2-0 series lead against the Bruins with the next two games in Montreal. In the week since, Boston has won three straight including an OT win in Game 4 and a double overtime win in Game 5. The Bruins now lead the series 3-2.
Game 6 goes tomorrow in Montreal, where the Canadiens are winless in the playoffs. But its hard to count the Canadiens out just yet. Keep in mind, Montreal came back from a 3-1 series deficit against Washington in last years first-round and a 3-2 series deficit against Pittsburgh in the second-round.
Season Series: The Capitals went 3-0-1 against the Canadiens this season, with Braden Holtby and Semyon Varlamov splitting the four starts. The Caps blanked the Habs twice this season, 3-0, at home on Dec. 28 (Varlamov), and 2-0 in Montreal on March 26 (Holtby).
What Needs to Happen: The Capitals will face the Canadiens in the playoffs for the second time in as many years, should Montreal win Games 6 and 7 against Boston and the Sabres lose Game 7 in Philadelphia.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning kept their season alive with an 8-2 win in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Steven Stamkos netted his first two career playoff goals, while Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina also scored twice. The Lightning had the top power play in the Eastern Conference in the regular season, and through five games against Pittsburgh, the Bolts are an NHL-best 8-for-22 on the PP.
Game 6 is Monday night in Tampa Bay, as the Lightning again look to stave off elimination. The road team has won four straight games in the series.
Season Series: The Capitals went 4-1-1 against Tampa Bay this season with Alexander Semin netting a pair of hat-tricks and Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson twice blanking the Caps.
Despite the two shutouts, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom had ten points each against the Lightning.
What Needs to Happen: The Capitals will face the Lightning if Tampa Bay can win Games 6 and 7 and the Bruins eliminate the Canadiens and the Flyers eliminate the Sabres.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins continue to chug along despite playing without the services of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby has been skating with the Pens for the past month, though his return remains uncertain. Malkin returned to the ice for the first time on Friday after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL in February. Malkin is said to be ahead of schedule although any potential return could still be weeks away.
The Penguins can punch their ticket to the second-round for the fourth straight season, should they win Game 6 in Tampa Bay tonight. If necessary, Game 7 would be Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
Season Series: The Capitals went 3-0-1 against the Penguins this season, including a 3-0 shutout win from Michal Neuvirth on Super Bowl Sunday at Verizon Center. Two weeks later, Neuvirth blanked the Penguins again, in a 1-0 win in Pittsburgh, Feb. 21.
What Needs to Happen: The Capitals will face the Penguins in the second-round if Pittsburgh eliminates Tampa Bay, the Bruins eliminate the Canadiens and the Flyers eliminate the Sabres.
Ben Raby is a producer and reporter on the Washington Capitals Radio Network. He can be heard on The Morning Skate airing Sundays at 9 a.m. on 106.7 The Fan.