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Capitals’ second-round forecast still hazy

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PHILADELPHIA | Mike Knuble and his Capitals teammates talked about Tuesday night as a chance to relax and watch some entertaining playoff hockey.

"Tonight's a huge night in the league, and it'd be fun to see what happens and determine our future a little bit," the veteran right wing said.

Instead, the Caps' forecast for the second round is still mostly cloudy with a chance of the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning.

Each of those teams could still visit Verizon Center this week to open the Eastern Conference semifinals after a night that didn't exactly bring clarity. In Montreal, the Canadiens staved off elimination by beating the Bruins 2-1 and forcing a Game 7 Wednesday night in Boston. Meanwhile, at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia the Flyers eliminated the Buffalo Sabres with a 5-2 victory.

"The one thing that we really emphasized for Game 7 was staying loose. Game 7 is not wondering whether you're going to play hard or whether you're going to compete hard all of those things should be built in automatically," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "But I really feel like sometimes in a Game 7 you can wind yourself up to a point where you can't even function. The message all day and the players did a terrific job, they came in loose, it was loose before the game and when we went out onto the ice we just played."

The Sabres could have made life easy upsetting the second-seeded Flyers would have set the Buffalo-Washington matchup. Instead, they looked like the team that slogged through the first half of the season and not the group that rode a hot offense and Ryan Miller to a playoff berth.

In fact, the Flyers' fourth goal chased Miller, bringing in backup Jhonas Enroth. Who could have guessed, in a series where the Flyers used three different goaltenders, that Buffalo would use two in Game 7? Miller was yanked after allowing four goals on 28 shots, but Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said he knew his team was spent and was just looking for a change.

But now the Caps won't be able to take advantage of a beat-up Buffalo team as the Flyers are moving on.

"I just think it was the magnitude of the game and what was at stake," Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said. "I think we all understood it was a Game 7 in our building."

At Bell Centre in Montreal, a goalie with even more pressure on him prolonged the Canadiens' season. Carey Price made 31 stops to shine another spotlight on Wednesday night.

That's when the Caps will finally know their opponent. The Canadiens and Bruins face off at TD Garden in Boston at 7 p.m., while the Lightning visit the Penguins in their Game 7 at 8 p.m. If Montreal wins, the Caps will play the Canadiens regardless of the outcome in Pittsburgh. If Boston holds serve and wins, the Caps would face the winner of Penguins-Lightning.

The Flyers are sitting and awaiting their second-round opponent, so Wednesday night becomes a chance for players to enjoy a night of hockey between rounds.

"It'd be nice if they play and hurt each other as much as possible," Flyers center Danny Briere said jokingly. "You never choose your opponent, so we'll watch and it's gonna be exciting."

The Caps will be watching, too, with their playoff future hinging on the outcomes.

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