ShareThis Page

Series squeezed by availability, TV

Kevin Gorman
| Friday, May 8, 2009

Washington general manager George McPhee made it clear that neither the Capitals nor the Penguins were consulted by the NHL before it scheduled them to play on back-to-back nights in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"You're just told," McPhee said, dryly.

Resigned to that reality, both teams are preparing for the fatigue factor that could change the course of their Eastern Conference semifinal. The Capitals lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1, heading into Game 4 at 7 tonight at Mellon Arena. Game 5 is at 7 p.m. Saturday at Verizon Center.

"I don't think anybody wants to play back-to-back in the playoffs - neither team," McPhee said. "These are the playoffs. These are the biggest games, and you want to see the teams at their best. These games take a lot out of the players. Neither manager wanted this. Neither team wanted this. But it's the way it is this year."

The two criteria primarily considered for playoff scheduling, according to an NHL spokesman, are building availability and television rights. This series is being squeezed by both.

A Yanni Voices concert scheduled for Tuesday at Mellon Arena prevented the Penguins from playing host to a Game 6 that night. It could have led to a longer layoff between games - such as the three-day break afforded to Anaheim and Detroit this weekend - if not for the opportunity for the Canadian Broadcast Corp. to telecast the NHL's top three stars in the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin in prime time on its "Hockey Night in Canada" show Saturday night.

Regardless of the reason, the Penguins and Capitals will play twice in 24 hours, a span that would belabor even Jack Bauer.

"It's a lot of hockey in a short period of time," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "There's not a lot of time to refocus and re-energize. You have to let go of the game, get back on the horse and rejuvenate and refocus. I think that's going to be the key here the next couple of days. It's going to be bang-bang and, on Sunday, somebody's going to be ahead in this series."

Which puts a premium on tonight's game. The Penguins, coming off a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 3, can even a series they once trailed by two games with another win. Or the Capitals can take a commanding 3-1 lead home, with the chance to clinch.

"Back-to-back games - in any way, shape or form - (are) a challenge for both teams, no matter who loses," Crosby said. "The winner is obviously going to have the momentum.

"You play back-to-back games and it's wearing on you. During the season, it's a bit of a factor sometimes. But in the playoffs, it's intense, emotional games and you have to turn the page quickly. Every game is big."

Washington experienced back-to-back playoff games last season in its first-round series against Philadelphia. The Capitals won Game 6, 4-2, before losing Game 7, 3-2, in overtime.

Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, however, has never played back-to-back games in the NHL regular season or playoffs. Varlamov, 21, has faced 114 shots from the Penguins in the first three games of the series, and the barrage could take its toll.

In a league where first-round playoff series once played four games in five days, players know there's no sense complaining about it.

"It's going to be tough, but both teams have to do it so I don't think it's anything different than during the regular season. It's not like we have to do it and they don't, or vice versa," Penguins forward Matt Cooke said. "It's probably toughest on the coaches because they've got to break down tape, and they've got to have a long night. For us, we play and move on."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.