Ever hear about something being the same, but different. Well, stop me if you’ve heard this before. Rangers and the Capitals meet in the playoffs. For a while, that wasn’t the case. In 2009, the teams met for the first time since 1994.
This is now their third meeting in the last four years. The players are the same (for the most part) and the locations will be the same…but there’s changes to the schedule as the roles are reversed. This time, the Rangers are the favorite and the Capitals are the gritty team that eeked out two overtime game-winners ousting the Stanley Cup Champion Bruins.
Series to this point:
- On Black Friday, the Rangers went down to Washington and took it to the Capitals as the team scoring was on display with goals by three of the four lines. The Rangers sprung to a 3-0, which the Caps quickly cut to 3-2 before falling to the Blueshirts 6-3.
- Just before Valentine’s Day, the Rangers showed the Caps no love in a tight-checking game where the Rangers sprung to a 2-0 and with the Capitals threatening to tie with a late Power Play, Brandon Dubinsky stole the puck and fed Brandon Prust for a short-handed game-winner.
- The Capitals jumped all over the Rangers, who were coming out of a week playing the Flyers, Devils and Islanders (twice). With the game tied a 1, Troy Brower scored by Martin Biron on a breakaway. After that, Alexander Semin scored twice as the Caps rolled.
- With the Division Title and #3 seed a possibility, the Caps stormed Madision Square Garden compiling a 3-0 in the first period. Alexander Ovechkin scored 32 seconds in and set the tone. The Rangers did have some motivation for the Presidents Trophy, but the Capitals were hungrier and showed it, cruising to a 4-1 with some guy named Braden Holtby in net.
- Fatigue factor: You’d think the extra day off would help the Capitals over the Rangers, but since both series went seven games it’s even, right? Not exactly, the Caps played 5 overtimes to the Rangers 2. That’s a FULL game more than the Rangers played.
- Holtby encore: Can Holtby keep this up? Is he Ken Dryden or Tommy Salo? Can he steal a Cup or just a round?
- Marian Gaborik meet Scoresheet: Gaborik had a goal in Game 1 of the Sens series and added an assist…and that was it.
- Boyle Injury: Will Brian Boyle return for this series? The Rangers checking center missed the last two games with a concussion.
The Blueshirts still need Marian Gaborik to step up. One goal in the Ottawa series, but a change can do him good. Gaborik has two goals in four games against Washington this year and he won’t be seeing Chris Philips every time he touches the ice.
Alexander Ovechkin is always the player to watch. Even though the Rangers do a great job against him, he can change a game with a flick of the wrist (see Game 6 vs Boston). He only scored twice in the first round and the Rangers hope he’s still in a slump. He’s gonna get a healthy dose of Marc Staal all series long as Girardi and McDonugh wil be up against the Backstrom line.
Secondary player to watch:
Derek Stepan busted out of his scoring slump in Game 6 of the Senators series. In Game 7, he added an assist. Stepan has found chemistry with Ryan Callahan and Chris Kreider -which was the best line for the Blueshirts Thursday night. If Stepan produces, the pressure is off on the stars and that could lead to more productions.
It’s always Alexander Semin. Semin’s devastating wrist shot is perpetual nightmare for Henrik Lundqvist. Last year, Semin had two key goals- a Game 4 rally-starter and a Game 1 OT-winner. Semin has received praise for his gritty play against the Bruins, but has this tiger changed his stripes? The Rangers will be more physical with him and try to get him back to being the invisible man.
Henrik Lundqvist has been stellar. The King came up with a big time performance in Game 7 against the Senators and he’ll be even more focused against the Capitals.
Braden Holtby was amazing in the series against the Bruins, but what is he? A flash-in-the-pan or the dawning of a star. The playoffs are littered with goaltenders that can win one series out of nowhere, but not many are Ken Dryden. Holtby didn’t record a shutout, but he stabilized the Caps goaltending. If the Rangers get to him, Michael Neuvirth is waiting in the wings.
The rookie speedster Chris Kreider can produce. Kreider scored the Game 6 winner and was everywhere on the ice in Game 7- sparking the first goal. Kreider has been what he is advertised.
Mike Green’s season has been full of injuries and has derailed the former-Norris Candidate. He has only 3 goals and 4 assists this season, but if he can get his legs…watch out.
The Rangers will win if…
Lundqvist stays on his game and the Rangers don’t try to get into a scorefest against the high powered Capitals (even in this down season). If Brad Richards leads the offense and Marian Gaborik joins the party, this could end in 5.
The Capitals will win if…
Holtby has to do it again. If he stymies, the Rangers offense as he did the Bruins, then the Rangers are in for another long series. Backstrom and Green are back from injuries and the Caps feature more talent than the Senators. Look out for Ovechkin and Semin.