Tanned and refreshed, Olaf Kolzig looked and felt as if he'd fallen through a miniature time warp.
"It's like training camp today," the Washington Capitals' goaltender said. "It's 90 degrees, and we've had three days off."After a regular season in which the NHL crunched games together to make up for the Olympic break, the league has paradoxically given the Capitals and Buffalo Sabres a full week to prepare for their Eastern Conference finals series. To keep his players from going stir crazy during the long buildup to Saturday's Game 1, coach Ron Wilson gave them a long weekend before resuming practice Tuesday.
"My job is to make sure guys don't get too antsy and their confidence stays high," said Wilson, who, ironically, was given precious little time to prepare a hodgepodge of all-stars when he was coaching the U.S. Olympic team in Nagano, Japan.
"We're the oldest team left in the playoffs right now, and any extra rest goes a long way for a Dale Hunter, an Adam Oates or anybody that's over 30 years old."
The Capitals, in the conference finals for only the second time in their 24-year history, were hopeful that the break wouldn't disrupt their momentum.
The Capitals finished off Ottawa in five games on Friday, and Buffalo completed a sweep of Montreal the night before. Both teams are being forced to wait because of the length of the Detroit-St. Louis series, the only conference semifinal to go beyond five games, and the dictates of television.