The National Hockey League, which settled the first strike in its 75-year history early yesterday, will resume its regular season today.
The Washington Capitals, who have clinched second place in the Patrick Division and the home-ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, have three regular-season games remaining.
"It's great to be back," said Capitals coach Terry Murray after practice yesterday at the Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton.
"I just hope we can return to the level of play that we had before the strike. It's been 11 days since the team was on the ice, and while it's good to work out at the health club, it's not the same as being on the ice. My big concern now is to guard against any serious injuries because of the long layoff.
"One good thing about the layoff is that it gave us a chance to rest up and recover from some bumps and bruises. It will also permit [defenseman Rod] Langway and [left wing Randy] Burridge to resume play."
Langway missed two weeks before the strike with a back strain, and Burridge had knee surgery in February.
Because the Capitals have locked up second place in their division, the final three games can be treated as tuneups for the playoffs.
"I wouldn't want to be a team struggling to make the playoffs," said forward Kelly Miller. "If that were the case, you'd have to go full-steam in a hurry. I think we're in an enviable position."
Toward that end, Murray said he would rest Langway and fellow defenseman Kevin Hatcher tonight. Yesterday, the Capitals added five members of the Skipjacks to their roster: defensemen Jason Woolley and John Slaney, forwards Keith Jones and Steve Konowalchuk and goalie Byron Dafoe.
The Capitals will play the New Jersey Devils, who are battling the defending NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins for third place in the Patrick Division, at 7:35 tonight in East Rutherford, N.J. Tomorrow, Washington will play the New York Islanders at the Capital Centre in Landover at 7:35 p.m., and will close the regular season Wednesday in Pittsburgh, also at 7:35 p.m.
Tickets originally issued for April 5 will be honored at tomorrow's game.
For the Capitals, the playoffs will begin next Sunday at 7:05 p.m. at the Capital Centre and continue April 21, also at the Capital Centre, against either New Jersey or Pittsburgh.