The Washington Capitals were less than 10 minutes from starting to prepare for a second-round matchup with seventh-seeded Buffalo when the Sabres folded at home, losing Game 6 in overtime to second-seeded Philadelphia.
Now the top-seeded Caps, who whipped the New York Rangers 4-1 in the opening round, might not know who they’ll play next until Wednesday night. It’ll be the Sabres if they win in Philly tomorrow night. But if the Flyers take that game, then Washington could meet Montreal, which trails Boston 3-2 heading into Tuesday’s home game, or the survivor of the Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay series which resumes tonight in Florida with the Penguins leading 3-2.
All this uncertainty is probably driving Washington’s scouts and coaches nuts, but it also means an extended layoff. It’s likely that the Caps won’t open the Eastern Conference semifinals at Verizon Center until Friday, which would mean a five-day break since they bounced the eighth-seeded Rangers.
Washington enjoyed interruptions as long just twice during its eight previous excursions past the first round, getting swept by Boston in the 1990 conference finals after five days off and beating Buffalo 4-2 in the 1998 conference finals after a week break.
For what it’s worth, teams which had had more time off, as will be the case for the Caps no matter whom they play next, were just 3-4 during the 2010 playoffs.
In terms of whom Washington wants to play, they were 3-1 against Buffalo, Montreal and Pittsburgh and 4-2 against Tampa Bay. The Sabres have the goalie most likely to steal a series in Ryan Miller, but the Canadiens (2010) and Penguins (2009) could be in the Caps’ heads after upsetting them the past two springs. And it’s not out of the question that Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby could return for the next round from the concussion that halted his season in January.
Canadiens Caps-killer Jaroslav Halak is gone and Crosby might not be back while Tampa Bay has just three players who had previous playoff experience with the Lightning, but if I’m Washington, give me Buffalo. Miller has allowed 16 goals in the past five games and the seventh-seeded Sabres have lost leads of 1-0 and 3-2 in their series with the Flyers.
By the way, Bruce Boudreau (17-16) is now the only Caps coach with a winning playoff record and needs just two victories to move into second on the franchise’s postseason list and eight (which would mean advancing the Stanley Cup finals) to take the top spot, passing Bryan Murray.
For the latter to occur, captain Alex Ovechkin, whose 23 career playoff goals rank him behind only Dale Hunter (26) and Peter Bondra (30), might well have to move into first place, too.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.