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Caps, Bruins to survive in seven

Looking to take the sting out of the Sabres' first-round knockout? You can sleep peacefully knowing they would have had almost no chance of beating the Capitals in the second round considering Buffalo's injuries and Washington's efficiency.

The Capitals were the natural pick to win the Stanley Cup last season after finishing first in the league but instead were sent home in the first round. They made sure it didn't happen again and made quick work of the Rangers. It appears they're drawing on their experience from last season and showing up with the two-way play and tenacity teams need in the postseason.

Washington still has the speed and skill (see: Ovechkin, Alex) to beat anyone in a best-of-seven series. Their matchup against Tampa Bay could turn into a track meet considering the Lightning's burners up front.

Philadelphia and Boston likely will be more methodical based on the Bruins' approach. Boston's strength is its defense and goaltending, which could slow Philadelphia's forwards as they seek entry deep into the offensive zone. Conversely, the Bruins don't have as much speed up front and rely more on quick passes and discipline.

Nobody should be surprised if Philly-Boston gets boring at times, an indication that the Bruins are winning. But it should be a close series, which creates the excitement fans crave in the postseason. Eight of the league's top 10 teams advanced to the second round, but three of the four teams in the Eastern Conference needed seven games.

Here's a look at the Eastern Conference semifinals:

Washington (1) vs. Tampa Bay (5)

Capitals update: Washington had a great start in its effort to make amends for its first-round knockout last season, dispatching the Rangers in five games. Alex Ovechkin had a mediocre season, at least by his standards, before dominating the Rangers with three goals and three assists in the five games. Defenseman Mike Green, limited to 49 games and 24 points during the regular season, also regained his all-star form. He had a point in each of the five games. Mike Knuble has been slowed by a wrist injury. Michal Neuvirth quieted skeptics with a 1.38 GAA and .946 save percentage against the Rangers. Big question now is whether the Caps' team defense, restructured this season under coach Bruce Boudreau, can withstand Tampa Bay's speed and skill up front.

Lightning update: The Bolts won their first playoff series since they beat the Flames for the Stanley Cup in 2004. They've had a terrific year after missing the postseason for three straight seasons and remain a dangerous team. Goalie Dwayne Roloson has been superb with a 1.77 GAA, just behind Neuvirth, and he led first-round goalies with a .949 save percentage. He was brilliant in a 36-save shutout against Pittsburgh in Game Seven. Maintaining the same effectiveness will be much tougher against the Caps. Martin St. Louis continues to lead the Lightning, and Vincent Lecavalier is near the top of his game. They need to find more room for Steven Stamkos, who was limited to one even-strength goal after scoring 45 goals during the regular season.

Outlook: Washington had a 4-1 record over Tampa Bay during the regular season and is more equipped defensively than it was last year.

Take the Capitals in seven games.

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Philadelphia (2) vs. Boston (3)

Flyers update: This is a tough matchup for Philly, mainly because it is playing a physical team in Boston and didn't like getting pushed around by Buffalo. Questions remain in goal with Brian Boucher, who was erratic against the Sabres. Is coach Peter Laviolette as quick with the hook in Round Two? No. Game Seven was the Flyers' best performance in weeks, which should boost their confidence going into this series. They also had an extra day to rest. Danny Briere was their best player against Buffalo with six goals and seven points in the seven games. He'll have a more difficult time getting opportunities around the net against Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk. Claude Giroux and Mike Richards combined for just one goal in the first round, but together they had 14 points and were plus-10.

Bruins update: They spotted Montreal a two-game lead and needed overtime in Game Seven with key offseason acquisition Nathan Horton scoring the series-clincher. Rental Chris Kelly, grabbed at the deadline, saved his best hockey for the postseason and had six points in the seven games. Milan Lucic gives them an aggressive forechecker, but he made more noise with his hitting than his overall play against the Habs. He had 30 goals during the regular season, none in the first round. David Krejci needs to show up. He averaged 21 minutes in the first round and was held to one assist. The Bruins remain thin down the middle with Marc Savard still on the sidelines. It's an issue against the Flyers, as the Sabres learned. Goalie Tim Thomas play fell off from the regular season, but he was still good enough.

Outlook: Remember, the Bruins had a 3-0 series lead over Philly last year before falling in seven games. It's not going to happen again with Thomas in net.

Bruins in seven games.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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