In the last four seasons the Capitals have squared off with the Rangers in the playoffs three times. The last two came as victories for Washington, who beat the Rangers in seven games in round one in the ’09 Cup run and then again in five games last year. This year presents some new challenges for the Caps, though. This time around it’s a total role reversal, with the Rangers coming out of the regular season as the No. 1 seeded team and the usually dominant Capitals barely scraping together a seventh seed. Though in a playoffs that has seen major contenders like Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Vancouver all knocked out, it’s a given that anything can happen regardless of home ice advantage and regular season momentum.
Let’s break it down.
These two teams met four times in the regular season, splitting the series two games apiece. If this is any indication of the playoffs, hunker down for a long one. Washington won the most recent meeting between the two teams to close out the season, taking the Rangers’ President’s Trophy away from them and propelling the Caps to a seventh seed finish.
How They Got to Round Two:
Want to hear a joke in early October? The Ottawa Senators. Want to hear a joke going into the playoffs? The Ottawa Senators. Now no one’s laughing, especially the No. 1 seeded Rangers who needed all seven games to eliminate the eighth seed and then did it by only one goal. A cause for concern for the Rangers’ Cup run? If nothing else, it took a bit of wind out of the sails of an early favourite.
It’s hard to find anything wrong with eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champs (there’s a but coming), but they did have the most giveaways in the first round of any team and only averaged two goals per game, something that isn’t going to cut it against Henrik Lundqvist. What the Caps have going for them right now is momentum, having knocked off the Cup contenders with production coming from all four lines.
Alex Ovechkin: mired in criticism and underachievement this season, his dwindling ice time is sure to be a story in this series. Nevertheless the Caps-tain leads his team in points and is third in the league in hits. Defensive liability, yes; offensive threat, yes. Sleeping giant who can wake up at a moment’s notice? We’ve seen it before.
This year against the Rangers – 2 G 3 A 15 Hits
Ryan Callahan: It is believed the Rangers captain is playing with a bruised finger after blocking a shot in Game 6, but that didn’t stop him from blocking two more and getting an assist in Game 7. Look for Callahan to show the same demeanour as his captain counterpart Ovechkin, as the two players are known for two things, big hits and big goals.
This year against the Caps – 1 G 4 A 18 Hits
2.00 GAA .940 SV %
The kid came out of the first round having made the most saves of any goalie. All the Caps need from Holtby is more of the same – greatness, and punching above his weight. Now that the fiery competitor has some confidence having sent the Bruins and last year’s playoff MVP Tim Thomas packing, there should be no stopping him. Holtby was brought in to the last regular season game against the Rangers and held them to just one goal on 36 shots, earning him the first star of the night, while Lundqvist allowed four goals on just 17 shots. The 22-year-old goalie is like any other, a little quirky, check out Holtby talk about some of his rituals:
1.70 GAA .945 SV %
There’s still a lot of Vezina candidates in these playoffs with Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne still alive and well, but Lundqvist’s name still has to be at the top of every one’s list. The Capitals and Rangers are nos. 1 and 2 in blocked shots these playoffs, so regardless of goaltending team defence and sacrificing the body will be a big part of the series. Lundqvist helped the Rangers stave off elimination, protecting their one goal lead in Game 7 by making some kingly saves. Take a look:
Bad Blood n’ Bruises:
The Capitals series with the Bruins was the hardest hitting and the least penalized, without a single fighting major. The Caps notched a one one-game suspension in the first round for a Nicklas Backstrom cross check, child’s play compared to the four games’ worth of suspensions in the Rangers/Sens series. The Rangers’ chippy round one left them a little more banged up than they would have hoped, having lost power forward Brian Boyle to a concussion and left Callahan and Brad Richards with suspected nagging injuries from blocking shots in Game 6. If this series does come to blows, Washington will look no further than Matt Hendricks who led the team in fighting majors with 11 this season.
The final word:
This series is going to be a war of attrition, not too unlike the two Game 7 series that destined the Caps and Rangers to meeting in this round two matchup. It’s going to be a battle of body bashing, high-flying offense and undoubtedly some highlight reel saves will be made along the way. Oh, and again, Caps in 7.
Matt Stephen is a writer, not a fighter. He is both a beer and fantasy league veteran and has written about hockey online and in print for The Hockey News. He now covers the spectrum from the White House to Mike Green. He carries a picture of Ovechkin in his wallet.