The Rangers kick off their second round series against the Capitals on Thursday. It is the fourth time in five years that these two teams will face one another in the postseason. For the Rangers, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Henrik Lundqvist have played in each of the four previous meetings, while eleven Capitals who played in the series back in 2012 are still on the current Washington roster. These teams know one another well, but when it boils down to it, there are a few key advantages that the Blueshirts have over the Caps this time around.
Here are three reasons the Rangers will beat the Capitals in round two.
Let’s call a spade a spade. Henrik Lundqvist gives the Rangers the edge in this upcoming series when it comes to goaltending. With all due respect to Braden Holtby who for all intents and purposes has been more than serviceable for the Capitals during three separate playoff runs, Henrik Lundqvist is as of this moment the superior netminder.
With 97 games of postseason experience under his belt, Lundqvist has put together an impressive resume when it’s come to the playoffs, particularly over the past four years. Over that span, he’s backstopped the Rangers 62 times posting a .931 save percentage. In the biggest moments, Lundqvist has also been pure dynamite as he has an impressive 5-1 record, 1.00 goals against average, and a .965 save percentage in six career game sevens. With three of the four prior playoff meetings with the Capitals going seven games, those numbers on paper will bode well for the Rangers.
On the flip side, it is not as if Holtby hasn’t been good for the Capitals, but he simply doesn’t have the wealth of experience that “The King” does. Holtby’s numbers are in fact quite eye-opening as he owns a career 1.95 goals against average and a .933 save percentage in 27 games of postseason play. Unfortunately for Holtby, though, he has only won one playoff series over that time, and stacked up against Lundqvist, the latter will have the advantage every time. If New York’s Swedish royalty plays the way he’s capable of playing, the Rangers will be in good shape.
The Capitals made some moves last summer which have made them a drastically improved playoff team compared to past seasons. The acquisitions of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen have made Washington a stiffer, deeper defense compared to the recent past, while the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov particularly in the first round against the Islanders has given the Capitals an added dimension to their Ovechkin-Backstrom centered offense.
That said, the Rangers defense is also a very difficult one to play against, one which in my mind outweighs the power of the Washington forwards. With five of their usual six starting blue liners, the Rangers were able to keep Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist and company at bay. Now throw Klein into the mix and the already loaded New York blue line will only be that much stronger.
Adding another interchangeable top-four defender to the blue line will give Alain Vigneault and his squad the ability to shut down the Capitals attack, even if the ideal matchup of McDonagh and Girardi isn’t out against Washington’s first line at every turn.
As the saying goes, a good defense makes for a good offense. With the return of Klein to the lineup, the Rangers defense core will get a tad bit better. That should in turn allow the Rangers more freedom offensively, which will mean more pressure on Holbty, which will mean…
I’ll let you finish that sentence.
The deep, quick transition defense is a staple of this Rangers team. That in front of Lundqvist will be key in leading them to victory over the Capitals in round two.
Opposite Round 1 Experiences
This might be one of the least talked about, yet most important storylines heading into this next round. Simply put, the Rangers needed the rest and they got it. Klein is coming back, Yandle had time get rid of his “body soreness,” and the Rangers as a whole have had five days to rest up, refine their game, and re-find their jam and intensity. The Capitals, on the other hand, probably could’ve used the rest, but didn’t get it the way the Rangers did.
On the part of the Blueshirts, they are coming off of a first round series that only went five games, never went deep into overtime, and wasn’t overly physical. They never gave into Pittsburgh’s post-whistle shenanigans, and were on the receiving end of only 152 hits.
The Capitals, however, played in a very physical and emotional seven games series, and took a total of 317 hits courtesy of the Islanders. It was a brutal battle that went the distance, and the Rangers and their fans should’ve been smiling from ear to ear watching the two teams beat the living day lights out of one another as the series wore on.
While Washington may initially feed off of the carried over momentum from the recent game seven win, if this upcoming series becomes a long one as history would suggest it will, the Rangers will more than likely have the edge as a second consecutive physically taxing series would eventually begin to ware on the Capitals.
Six, Maybe Seven
We can predict and speculate all we want, but at the end of the day this series is probably going six or seven games. These teams know each other well. They are both very good, deep teams, and it should make for a wonderfully entertaining series. It will all get underway Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.