- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers might be right that the waiting is the hardest part. But for Bruce Boudreau and the Capitals, it’s a mixed bag.

They’ll likely have about a week between their series-clinching Game 5 victory against the New York Rangers and their second-round opener. The extended layoff has lots of pros and cons for a banged-up team that would also love to keep rolling through the playoffs.

“It’s a matter of us being prepared and being focused and ready to play,” right wing Matt Bradley said. “There’s benefits to having rest — guys with injuries and who play a lot get a time to rest. But when it comes time to play, whenever it is, we have to be ready.”

With that in mind, the Caps returned to full practice Tuesday to stay in shape for their Eastern Conference semifinal series. These are uncharted waters since no Boudreau-coached Washington team has eliminated an opponent in fewer than seven games and then waited.

“We’re getting anxious,” Boudreau said. “We play every second day for the most part in March, but three days is a long time, four days you start, you know, going ‘OK, what’s going on?’ and by the fifth and sixth days, your wives don’t like you.”

From a health standpoint, having the equivalent of an all-star break off could be a big-time help for players such as Mike Knuble (hand) and Dennis Wideman (leg), who missed time in the first round with injuries. Knuble and Mike Green (puck to head) practiced fully Tuesday.

“It’s been a bonus for Dennis and I — it’s like a bye week in the NFL practically,” Knuble said. “Dennis has been working hard, so we’ve been working hard together.”

The Caps have so far practiced not knowing their second-round opponent and have worked on “systems” and fixed some of their problems. It’s impossible to game plan for everyone at once, so it has been about not slipping into what Boudreau called a “summer” atmosphere.

A long layoff like this means players could need a shift or two to get back into game shape physically, but defenseman Karl Alzner said the mental hurdle of having so many days off is bigger.

“We’re just going to have to just remember what it took to win that first series and how hard we have to play,” Alzner said. “It’s only going to get harder from here.”

There’s a major physical element for the guy who undoubtedly was the Caps’ best player in the first round, though. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth would rather play every other day — but he dealt with a long layoff in past seasons in Hershey and still won a Calder Cup.

“It’s always tough when you’re not playing a lot of games. You feel rusty in the first game,” Neuvirth said. “We just got to focus and get ready for the next round.”

But Boudreau said he and his team have it all planned out for how to deal with this break. And with a big goal in mind, focus shouldn’t be a problem.

“When you get a lot of days off, you’re not around the rink so much and you kind of start doing your own thing and you’re watching other teams play and you get caught up in everything that’s going on,” Alzner said. “But at this level, it should be different. Guys are pretty focused on winning, and everybody wants to win a Stanley Cup here.”