By Mark Giannotto
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 9, 2010; D06
With the Presidents' Trophy and the top seed in the Eastern Conference already clinched, the Washington Capitals will be playing for little more than individual accomplishments and pride when they take the ice Friday and Sunday for their final two games of the regular season. Therefore many on the team have turned their attention to whom their first-round opponent will be next week when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
Heading into Thursday night's NHL action, there was a logjam in the chase for the final three playoff spots with sixth-place Montreal just three points ahead of ninth-place New York after the Rangers defeated Toronto on Wednesday night. The uncertainty is driving Coach Bruce Boudreau crazy trying to keep track of it all.
"I look at the computer every day so many times, thinking the scores will change during the day and if you ask me who I think we're playing, I have no idea," said Boudreau.
Chances are, though, the Capitals' first-round opponent won't be decided until Sunday, the final day of the NHL regular season, when seventh-place Philadelphia takes on New York for the second time in three days. There are many scenarios that could play out because of the overtime point system utilized by the NHL and the fact that the first tiebreaker for playoff spots is number of wins, not head-to-head matchups. According to sportsclubstats.com, before Thursday's games there was a 47 percent chance the Capitals face the Bruins, a 22 percent chance they face the Flyers, a 20 percent chance they face the Rangers, and an 11 percent chance they face the Canadiens.
"It's fun to watch to see these teams playing for their lives like we were two years ago," said defenseman Shaone Morrisonn.Key players get more rest
In the past week, Boudreau has used the Capitals' cushion in the standings to give his key players some well-deserved rest. But when asked whether he would sit center Nicklas Backstrom, who has never missed a game during his three-year NHL career and therefore has a 244 consecutive games played streak, the coach had yet to make up his mind.
"These are tough calls," Boudreau said of Backstrom, who is also just two points shy of reaching 100 for the first time. "Is it better to play Nicky and risk injury to keep him going, figuring he's not gonna get hurt because he hasn't been hurt in X amount of games yet? He's playing [Friday] and then we'll review that and how that goes and we'll see Sunday."
Boudreau also indicated veteran Mike Knuble, and fourth-line stalwarts David Steckel and Matt Bradley would likely get the night off Friday against Atlanta with the postseason looming.Boudreau backs Green
Defenseman Mike Green was out of the lineup when the Capitals faced Boston and Pittsburgh earlier this week nursing some nagging injuries, but Thursday said he felt refreshed after the time off. "I feel so good," he said. "I can skate again." Boudreau also jumped at the chance to once again stump for Green's Norris Trophy candidacy. He leads all NHL defensemen with a career-high 74 points this year.
"If the awards are based on statistics . . . he's got by far the best statistics, so I don't see what the deal is," said Boudreau. "He's the best defenseman on the best regular season team, so I think he should win it."