So, Caps fans, who will you root for tonight? The Rangers? The Senators? The Panthers? The Devils?
It all depends on who you want to face in the first round.
If the top-seeded Rangers beat the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators in Game 7 tonight in New York, the Capitals will begin Round 2 in Manhattan this weekend.
If the Rangers lose and the third-seeded Panthers beat the sixth-seeded Devils, the Caps will face the fifth-seeded Flyers in Philadelphia this weekend.
And if the Rangers lose and the Devils beat the Panthers, the Caps will face the Devils in Newark this weekend.
Got all that?
Each of the three potential opponents would bring some intriguing story lines.
The Rangers (2-2-0 season series): The Caps and Rangers have met in two of the last three post-seasons and the Caps prevailed both times. In 2009 they rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the series in seven games on the strength of rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
Last season the Caps disposed of the Rangers in five games thanks to the strong netminding of rookie Michal Neuvirth. This time it would be rookie Braden Holtby going up against Henrik Lundqvist, who has yet to beat the Caps in the playoffs.
Rangers coach John Tortorella would certainly have an opinion on the Capitals, even though he gave none before the final game of the regular season when asked to describe the games between the two teams this season.
Dont even remember, Torts retorted.
When asked if the Capitals look different under Dale Hunter, Tortorella said, I don't care. I don't know anything about them. I'm only going to worry about ourselves."
Hunter was more expansive with his assessment:.
Weve got to play our best because theyre well-balanced and they have good goaltending, he said. The coach is intense, the players block a lot of shots and they play hard.
The Devils (Caps lost season series 1-1-2): The Caps and Devils havent met in the playoffs since 1990 when Chris Terreri tended goal for the Rangers and Don Beaupre and Mike Liut took turns for the Caps.
Aside from the obvious storylines of Marty Brodeurs possible last stand and Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk battling for the title of the NHLs best Russian sniper, this meeting would match Peter DeBoer against Dale Hunter.
The two had their fair share of battles in the Ontario Hockey League, where DeBoer coached the Kitchener Rangers and Hunter led the London Knights. One of their games ended with the Knights Corey Perry and the Rangers Mike Richards slugging it out.
I think teams take on the identity of the guy standing behind the bench sometimes, DeBoer said of Hunter in the Devils last visit to D.C. His teams did, but they also played with a ton of skill, which kind of surprised people.
Thats something people dont realize about him, that he reinforced a skill, puck possession game, which wasnt his type of game when he played.
The Flyers (Caps lost season series 1-2-1): Take your pick. The return of former Capitals right wing Jaromir Jagr, who received the Good Guy Award by the Philadelphia Hockey Writers Association hold your applause, please?
Or the mercurial play of Mr. Universe, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who had humangous struggles in the Flyers first-round series against the Penguins, allowing 21 goals in parts of six games. Bryzgalov has the fourth-worst GAA 3.89 and save percentage .871 among playoff goalies.
The last time the Caps visited Philadelphia on March 22, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette could not say enough nice things about the Capitals.
Sometimes when you see a team in ninth or eighth but theyve been a team that has been consistently, year after year, at the top of the conference, you think maybe they lost their step or lost their swagger, Laviolette said after the Flyers won a 2-1 battle. But this team seems to be moving in the right direction. They played a hard-fought game.
My take: If given the choice of a second-round opponent for the Caps, Id take the Devils over the Rangers and Flyers, in that order. Brodeur appears to be on his last leg and the Caps have better high-end talent than the Devils.
The Caps and Rangers would be an entertaining and hard-fought series, but beating any team three straight times is a difficult task.
The Flyers might be the least desirable team for the Caps since they are coming off a series in which they rolled up 30 goals in six games and show no signing of slowing.
Well all know sometime late tonight.