- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2011

The Sabres couldn’t make it easy on the Capitals on Sunday afternoon. Had Buffalo beaten the Flyers in Game 6, one second-round matchup already would be set, with Washington hosting the Sabres later this week.

But Philadelphia’s comeback and overtime victory means the Caps wait.

“Usually you’d know kinda by now, but it’s still up in the air,” forward Matt Bradley said. “I think it shows how close our league is and how many [series] are going to Game 6 and 7.”

These Caps under coach Bruce Boudreau aren’t used to this. This is the first time they’ve finished off a series in five games and awaited their next opponent — to be determined.

If the Sabres beat the Flyers on Tuesday night, they’ll punch their ticket to Washington to visit the Verizon Center. If Philadelphia survives, the Caps could face the Penguins, Lightning or Canadiens.

With their next opponent up in the air and the second round likely not starting until Friday or Saturday, the Caps have an interesting challenge early this week.

“It’s just about staying at the task at hand — not to let yourself get lost in the summer-type atmosphere-type thing, which is why we want everybody at the rink every day, all the time,” Boudreau said.

On the ice and in meetings, the Caps aren’t yet able to game-plan for an opponent. It’s too early to start strategizing about how to beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller or how to break through the Penguins’ defense or the Lightning’s trap. And too early for players to start answering questions about redemption against the Canadiens.

“I think we’re worried about what we do,” forward Jason Chimera said. “We’re not necessarily worried about who we play. We feel we gotta get ready ourselves individually. You can’t control who you’re gonna play, so we just gotta work hard and practice and stay sharp.”

There are naturally things that need work, even for a top-seeded team that blew through the first round with relative ease.

“For us, we can work on systems,” Bradley said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of it, but we can always get better.”

Several players and Boudreau also will keep their hands on the clicker and watch the rest of these games unfold. But players don’t seem to be in full scouting mode yet about upcoming opponents.

“So far, I’ve just been watching as a fan, ‘cause we don’t really know anything about who we’re gonna play,” defenseman Karl Alzner said.

That could change very quickly as new results happen and other series finish up. Boudreau and his players wouldn’t even touch the subject of who they’d like to face next.

“We’re gonna have to beat all the best teams to get through anyway, so it really doesn’t make a difference to us,” Alzner said. “Hopefully, those series go long and tire some guys out — that’s all you can hope for.”

So for now, the Caps get to experience some tunnel vision.

“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Bradley said. “It’s no secret when we’re successful — we work hard and play the right way.”

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