- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cleaning out the notebook following a thrilling Rangers-Capitals series and before the Penguins-Capitals extravaganza:

• When Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said the next series is going to be a circus, he’s not kidding. There are myriad subplots to be dissected during what probably will be a long and high-scoring series.

The one that will get the attention: the Alex Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby feud escalating to another level.

The one that should get attention: why the Caps played better on the road against the Rangers. They went 2-1 at the Garden and escaped 2-2 at home. They must be better starting Saturday because the chances of rallying from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits again are remote.

• Two strategic adjustments by Boudreau should stay intact for the Penguins series. Midway through Game 6, the Caps unveiled a first power-play unit of Ovechkin and Alexander Semin centered by Nicklas Backstrom with Mike Green and Tom Poti on defense. Poti is comfortable with the puck and allows Green to roam the perimeter and Ovechkin to find a seam or set up shop in front of the net.

The second change came in Game 7 when Brooks Laich was elevated to second-line right wing with Semin and Backstrom. Moving Tomas Fleischmann off the line was far overdue. He was a nonfactor in the series after scoring the first goal of Game 1. And that’s tough to do playing with a passer like Backstrom. Laich is more physical on the forecheck.

• There have been calls for center Keith Aucoin’s return from Hershey. Not so fast. Sure, he would bring energy, but he would play at the expense of fourth-line pivot Boyd Gordon, who is valuable on the first penalty-killing unit and wins faceoffs.

• Semin led the league with five first-round goals, and Backstrom was tops with seven assists, including three on goals scored by Semin.

• It was a fine postseason debut for captain Chris Clark in Game 7. He played 8:13 on the fourth line but looked comfortable with the speed of the game. He’s expected to stay in lineup for at least five games as Donald Brashear completes his suspension for rearranging Blair Betts’ orbital bone.

• The Caps’ penalty kill will be tested by Pittsburgh’s skill even though the Penguins’ power play clicked at only 12.5 percent in the first round and was only 20th in the regular season. New York was 4-for-31 with the man advantage and looked completely flummoxed by the Caps’ aggressiveness.

• The over-under on Matt Cooke getting under somebody’s skin is about three shifts. He provided the Caps a spark last year when he was acquired from Vancouver. Now with the Penguins, he’s an effective pest, the kind of player the Caps don’t have on their roster.

• Not starting the Penguins-Caps series until Saturday is insane; playing Games 4 and 5 back-to-back is atrocious. These are high-stakes games, and there always should be a travel/practice day when the location of the series switches. Game 4 is May 8 at 7 p.m. in Pittsburgh; Game 5 is 24 hours later in the District.

• Sometimes, the best trades are the ones not made. Defenseman Derek Morris was on the market at the deadline and ended up with the Rangers. He was below average for most of the series and was oftentimes invisible.

• Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov proved unflappable in a low-scoring series (he stopped 152 of 160 shots in six games). It remains to be seen how he handles games that could be 4-3 or 5-4. His ability to shake off a mistake or a goal allowed will be tested.

• Carolina’s lightning strike allowed the Hurricanes to oust New Jersey, but it’s hard to see many reasons why they can keep it going against top-seeded Boston. The Bruins should win in five games.

• Out west, the Chicago-Vancouver series should be great. Six Blackhawks players scored at least six points in an impressive win over Calgary, and the Canucks cruised to a sweep over St. Louis. Chicago’s young core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook did what Crosby (2007) and Ovechkin (2008) couldn’t do - win their playoff series debut.

• Meanwhile, Cristobal Huet played zero minutes for Chicago in the first round.

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