Coach Bruce Boudreau keeps a watch on whom the Capitals may face in the first round of the 2010 NHL playoffs

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 27, 2010

With eight games left and the top seed in the Eastern Conference all but assured, the Washington Capitals have begun to watch the standings to see which team they may draw in the first round of the playoffs.

It's a routine that at times has consumed Coach Bruce Boudreau almost as much as game-planning for the next opponent.

"Believe me, it's what I do. It's all I do," Boudreau said following the Capitals' 4-3 shootout victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The Boston Bruins occupy the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with 78 points. They are two points ahead of Atlanta and three in front of the New York Rangers, and every other team in the East except Toronto is within eight points.

Ahead of Boston are Philadelphia (80 points), Montreal (82) and Ottawa (85), which Washington plays on Tuesday as part of a three-game homestand that begins Sunday against Calgary.

The Capitals also play the Bruins twice more at home, including the final game of the regular season, and take on the Thrashers twice at Verizon Center. Washington, which plays six of its final eight games at home, is a combined 6-0 against the two clubs.

"We have an opportunity to play spoiler a little bit, deciding who gets into the playoffs," right wing Eric Fehr said. "We're just going to try to do our part and win as many games as we can and let everything sort itself out."

The Capitals just completed a grueling stretch in which they played five of six games on the road. That string included Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to Southeast Division foe Carolina in which Washington broke its franchise record for most points in a season (109).

The Hurricanes have beaten the Capitals twice in a row, and each of the past three games between the teams went at least into overtime. Carolina has eight games left to move into the final playoff spot and is seven points behind Boston, its final opponent of the regular season.

"Yeah, and you see some teams struggling and some teams still winning," right wing Mike Knuble said when asked whether he peeks at the standings. "We do watch, you know, I mean because it's starting to cluster together. I'd say there's eight teams involved, nine maybe?"

The fluctuation in the standings has become almost maddening for Boudreau, who has said it's disquieting not to know which team he needs to prepare for in the first round. The style of play varies greatly among those clawing for the last playoff spot, from the finesse game of Montreal and Atlanta to the traditionally rugged demeanor of Philadelphia.

On top of that, Boudreau constantly is trying to assess whether he should rest key players down the stretch now that the top spot in the East is nearly locked up.

"You know what? I wrestle with this all the time," Boudreau said. "I was saying before, I was thinking, the Arizona Cardinals, they rested all their guys. Indianapolis rested all their guys. They go to the Super Bowl. Should we be resting? Should we be not putting as much emphasis on it?

"I've seen teams that rest their guys, and then they stink in the first game of the playoffs. I think last year we didn't put an emphasis on the end of the season. We lost games at home, and we lost the first two games until we got into a playoff mode, so I bounce it off both ways all the time, believe me. It's what keeps me up at night."

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