Scoping Out the (Potential) Enemy

As we head into the final weekend of the 2010-11 regular season, a lot of things remain up in the air - not the least of which, of course, is where the Capitals themselves will finish.

And while that is (mostly) in their hands, something that's completely out of their control is which team they draw for their first round playoff match-up. With just one or two games left for each team, there are four different possibilities: the Buffalo Sabres, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Montreal Canadiens or the New York Rangers.

A look at each of the potential opponents after the jump...

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(Rick Stewart / Getty Images)

BUFFALO SABRES
92 pts; 7th in East with 2 games remaining
17% chance of 6th, 73% chance of 7th, 8% chance of 8th, 3% chance of 9th*

Season Series: Caps win, 3-0-1


Series GF PPOpp PPGF SHGF PP%
Capitals 3-0-1 13 10 4 0 40%
Sabres 1-2-1 10 14 4 0 28.5%

Key Players
Thomas Vanek: 5 points (3G, 2A) in 4 games
Tim Connolly: 4 points (4A) in 4 games
Ryan Miller: 2.32 GAA, 0.924 save % in 3 games vs Washington
Alexander Semin: 5 points (2G, 3A) in 4 games
Nicklas Backstrom: 5 points (2G, 3A) in 4 games
Jason Chimera: 3 assists, +4 in 4 games

Did you know? The four power play goals the Caps have scored against the Sabres is tied for second-most they've scored against any opponent this year. The only team against whom they've scored more power play goals is Philadelphia (six).

Why Caps fans should fear this matchup: Because three of the four games between the Caps and Sabres this year have been one-goal games, including two that required overtime. Because the Sabres have scored the most goals of any of the three teams in the mix. And because Ryan Miller is capable of stealing a game or two all on his own.

Why Caps fans shouldn't fear this matchup: Because the second-biggest Cap-killer this year, Jordan Leopold (1G, 3A in 3 games) is out of the lineup with a broken finger. Because Shaone Morrisonn will be in the lineup...if he's not a healthy scratch, at least. And because the Sabres appear to be one of the few teams against whom the Caps can score power play goals, with four in four games.

*****

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(Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo)

CAROLINA HURRICANES
89 pts; 9th in East with 2 games remaining
63% chance of 9th, 34% chance of 8th, 3% chance of 7th*

Season Series: Caps win, 5-0-1


Series GF PPOpp PPGF SHGF PP%
Capitals 5-0-1 15 15 1 1 7%
Hurricanes 1-5-1 9 26 2 0 8%

Key Players
Tuomo Ruutu: 5 points (2G, 3A) in 6 games
Jussi Jokinen: 4 points (2G, 2A) in 6 games
Alex Ovechkin: 8 points (2G, 6A) and +7 in 6 games
Nicklas Backstrom: 5 points (4G, 1A) in 5 games

Did you know? All but one of the six games between the Caps and 'Canes was a one-goal affair, and in all but one of the six games the winning team scored (or "scored" via the shootout) three goals.

Why Caps fans should fear this matchup: Because Eric Staal may have been relatively quiet this year but still has almost a point per game against the Caps in his career. Because Tuomo Ruutu already broke one of the Caps' defensemen. And because Cam Ward has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe trophy to his name...i.e., he's pretty good when the games count the most.

Why Caps fans shouldn't fear this matchup: Because the one win the Hurricanes have managed against the Caps came via the shootout. Because Joe Corvo will be trying to defend against Alex Ovechkin. And because Alexander Semin loves to score on the 'Canes, with more goals (25) and points (42) against Carolina than any other team in his career.

*****
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(Richard Wolowicz / Getty Images)

MONTREAL CANADIENS
94 pts; 6th in East with 1 game remaining
83% chance of 6th, 17% chance of 7th*

Season Series: Caps win, 3-0-1


Series GF PPOpp PPGF SHGF PP%
Capitals 3-0-1 11 20 3 0 15%
Canadiens 1-3-0 4 17 0 0 0%

Key Players
Brian Gionta: 2 goals in 4 games
Tomas Plekanec: 20 points (10G, 10A) in 24 career games vs. Washington
Semyon Varlamov: 0.96 GAA, 0.968 save % and one shutout in 2 games (3-0-1, 1.45 GAA, 0.950 save % career vs. Montreal; 3-3, 2.41GAA, 0.908 save % in the playoffs)
Marcus Johansson: 2 goals in 4 games
Marco Sturm: 3 points (1G, 2A) in 2 games

Did you know? The Canadiens are one of two teams the Caps have shut out twice this year (the other being Pittsburgh), and the Caps have allowed just five goals in the four games vs. Montreal.

Why Caps fans should fear this matchup: Because they've already solved the Caps once in the playoffs and play a similar style to the one that was so effective a year ago. Because Carey Price has held his team in playoff contention despite having an injury-depleted defense in front of him. And because the Bell Centre continues to be one of the toughest buildings in the NHL.

Why Caps fans shouldn't fear this matchup: Because while the Caps struggled against Montreal last year, foreshadowing a tough playoff matchup, they've dominated this year's season series. Because Semyon Varlamov has better numbers against Montreal than any other team. And because the power play that was beyond ineffective against the Habs last spring has clicked in the four games this year.

*****

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(Nick Laham / Getty Images)

NEW YORK RANGERS
91 pts; 8th in East with 1 game remaining
7% chance of 7th, 59% chance of 8th, 34% chance of 9th*

Season Series: Rangers win, 3-1-0


Series GF PPOpp PPGF SHGF PP%
Capitals 1-2-1 6 15 1 0 7%
Rangers 3-1-0 17 13 4 1 31%

Key Players
Brian Boyle: 7 points (3G, 4A) in 4 games
Henrik Lundqvist: 1.34 GAA, 0.955 save % and 2 shutouts in 3 games
Brooks Laich: 3 points (2G, 1A) in 4 games
Mike Green: 13 points (5G, 8A) in 16 career games vs. NYR

Did you know? Two of the more lopsided games in the Caps' loss column came at the hands of the Rangers, as they were outscored 13-0 in those two games. Through two games the Rangers scored three more goals than either the Lightning or the Hurricanes did in their entire six-game series against the Caps.

Why Caps fans should fear this matchup: Because the Rangers have shown the ability to be both offensively explosive and defensively stingy - and have done so twice against the Caps this year. Because while the Caps are masters of the late comeback, the Rangers have yet to lose a game this year in which they've led after two periods. And because Henrik Lundqvist is Henrik Lundqvist.

Why Caps fans shouldn't fear this matchup: Because with Ryan Callahan out of the lineup, the Rangers are missing one of their better offensive talents, a strong penalty-killer and a team leader. Because the Rangers have yet to face the new, improved Caps. And because Henrik Lundqvist may be Henrik Lundqvist...but Matt Bradley is also Matt Bradley.

*All percentages via sportsclubstats.com

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