The Washington Capitals didn’t have a game on Friday night, but by virtue of a Philadelphia Flyers loss in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres, the Caps have clinched the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup playoffs, which will start on Wednesday, April 13th. The Capitals will play either the Carolina Hurricanes or the New York Rangers in the first round. The Rangers play the New Jersey Devils on Saturday at 1230 pm and if they lose in regulation then Carolina is the 8th seed. The Canes play the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7 pm in Raleigh on Saturday night so by 10 pm tomorrow, at the latest, Caps General Manager George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau will know their first round opponent.
All of this makes Saturday night’s Capitals contest against the Florida Panthers fairly meaningless. The key to the game is to not sustain any injuries and Mike Green is slated to see his first NHL action since February 25th when he suffered a concussion on a hit from the Rangers Derek Stepan. I would expect that McPhee and Boudreau will now sit Alexander Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, and Alexander Semin so that they don’t risk re-aggravating the nagging injuries that caused them to miss some recent games. Another skater who could sit if one of 8, 44, or 28 does play is Nicklas Backstrom, who seems totally healed from a fractured thumb but is a another “can’t lose” player for the post season.
One player you will likely see a lot of is DJ King, who has played only 16 games this season (30 PIMs, 2 assists, -3). This is likely #17′s most important game as a Washington Capital and it is his job to make it clear that no Panthers are to take any liberties with the Caps this close to the post season, particularly #52. As for Green, it is necessary for him to get some game action in preparation for next week’s playoffs. Instead of the usual 25+ minutes he normally logs, however, I would venture to guess that #52′s ice time will be in the 15 to 18 minute range on Saturday against Florida. (SATURDAY UPDATE: According to Mike Vogel of WashingtonCaps.com, Green will not play on Saturday night, he did not make the trip.)
Notes: Tom Poti skated today at Kettler Ice Plex before the team flew to Florida for Saturday’s game. In fact, all Capitals except Dennis Wideman took part in the practice (h/t @SkyKerstein of DC’s 106.7 The FAN)…The Caps will be holding a press conference on Monday at 330 pm at the First Mariner Arena to announce a September 20th preseason game against the Nashville Predators in Baltimore. WNST will be on the scene to bring you more details from that session….Down on the farm, the Hershey Bears are headed for a first round date with Carolina’s AHL team, the Charlotte Checkers. Game 1 will be on Thursday, April 14th at the Giant Center at 7 pm. The Bears knocked off the despised Wilkes-Barre Penguins, 2-1, on Friday night with Braden Holtby stopping 24 of 25 shots. Andrew Kozek had both Hershey goals. The bad news from the contest was that Mathieu Perreault left the game late in the third period favoring one of his legs and according to Tim Leone (@TimLeone) and @Sweetesthockey (who tweets the Hershey games for the website Russian Machine Never Breaks) appeared to suffer a knee injury. Hershey Director of Communications, John Walton, tweeted after the game that Perreault is day to day with a lower body injury.