- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

SUNRISE, Fla. — One way or another, Bruce Boudreau was going to find a way to follow some hockey games last night.

Plan A was on a television somewhere in South Florida, while Plan B was on his computer. Most of the Washington Capitals made yesterday a day away from the ice, but it didn’t mean they wouldn’t be following the night’s action around the Eastern Conference closely.

“If I can’t find a game [on TV], I will be on the Internet looking at them shift-by-shift,” Boudreau said. “You go through the game log with each shift and see how it is going. I’m anal.

“[When I am watching], I’m sure a word that shouldn’t be on TV is in there. It is like watching March Madness in basketball. You are switching channels, looking at every score. You’ve got someone to cheer for and somebody not to cheer for.”

With the Caps in the middle of a heated playoff race, everyone has some way to check in on the competition. Some may try to find a place with the NHL Center Ice package to watch important out-of-town games.

For others, maybe it is a glance at the bottom scroll on ESPN, or a quick check of the scores on a cell phone or laptop. General manager George McPhee said he can’t watch games that don’t involve his team because he is so intense just watching them.

Whatever the method, the players and coaches are finding ways to keep tabs as they continue to try and win their own games while waiting for help to come. With four games remaining, the Caps do not control their own fate. They need to keep winning and hope Boston, Philadelphia or Carolina slip up along the way.

Those are the three teams Washington has the best chance of catching, but Boudreau hasn’t ruled out any team that doesn’t already have more than 94 points — the barrier of which the Caps cannot pass.

“When [New] Jersey loses, we are saying they still have to get four points to knock us out,” Boudreau said. “Ottawa has to get [three] points to knock us out. We are looking at every team that is still conceivably in the picture that we can catch.”

The scoreboard watching for the Caps is not limited to off nights. During intermissions, the coaches flip on the televisions in their rooms and check the status of every game because the Center Ice package is always available. Players can wander over to the trainer’s room even if they don’t need treatment to steal a glance at the scores.

When Boudreau does his postgame news conference, he often knows the final results of out-of-town games that ended shortly after Washington’s contest before the media members covering him do.

While the focus must remain on the game at hand, knowing what their peers are up to can be a help.

“After the second period [Thursday night at Tampa Bay], Bruce came in and said, ‘Boston has won,’ so that made the third even more important,” defenseman Jeff Schultz said.

Added captain Chris Clark, who’s out with an injured groin: “[I look] all the time — I’ve got the ticker on so I can see the scores while I am watching our game. It is something we haven”t done the past couple of years, but it is actually fun to do.”

While Boudreau made the college basketball analogy, the NCAA tournament might have made it tough for the Caps to find hockey games on television. Of course, some of the guys will probably want to keep tabs on the college basketball games as well.

“I’m sure some guys will be trying to [watch hockey],” Schultz said. “I think I’ll watch some basketball. I want to win this pool that we’ve got going on here.”

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