2/17 – Rangers 2 – Capitals 1 (MSG)
3/10 – Rangers 4 – Capitals 1 (Verizon Center)
3/24 – Capitals 3 – Rangers 2 SO (MSG)
^Rangers – 5 points, Capitals – 2 points
Game 1 – Thursday 5/2 – 7:30PM – Verizon Center
Game 2 – Saturday 5/4 – 12:30PM – Verizon Center
Game 3 – Monday 5/6 – 7:30PM – Madison Square Garden
Game 4 – Wednesday 5/8 – 7:30PM – Madison Square Garden
*Game 5 – Friday 5/10 – 7:30PM – Verizon Center
*Game 6 – Sunday 5/12 – TBD – Madison Square Garden
*Game 7 – Monday 5/13 – TBD – Verizon Center
When it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, nothing breeds contempt better than familiarity. For the third straight season, and for the fourth time in the past five seasons, the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 2009 and 2011, the Capitals eliminated the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs (seven games and five games respectively), but the Rangers ended the Caps season in seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In an earlier article, I eluded to the fact that the Rangers best chance to get out of the first round was to earn the sixth seed and face the Southeast Division champion. From the “Be Careful What You Wish For” department, the Rangers got exactly that. But instead of a Capitals or Winnipeg Jets team that limped to the finish, the Blueshirts will face a Capitals team that went 11-1-1 in the month of April. After being dealt an ugly loss at home by the Rangers on March 24th, Washington has gone 17-5-2 since then.
It’s no secret that the Capitals go as Alexander Ovechkin goes. In January & February, when Ovechkin tallied eight goals and seven assists, the Capitals went 7-11-1. 15 points in 19 games isn’t what you want from your dynamic, top scorer. In the months of March & April, Ovechkin had 24 goals and 17 assists, while the Caps went 20-7-2. Those numbers aren’t a coincidence.
The big turning point for the Rangers this season was the trade deadline. After going 17-15-3 through April 1st, the Blueshirts finished strong, going 9-3-1 with the new-look roster. Out went Marian Gaborik, in came Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard, and John Moore. The new trio combined for eight goals and eleven assists for the Rangers down the stretch. Clowe has added some much-needed grittiness, Brassard has provided great depth up the middle (he’s even pushed Brad Richards down to the 3rd center for some games), and Moore has provided steadiness on the third defensive pairing.
Forwards: It would be easy to say that the series will come down to who produces more between Ovechkin (this is where the Rangers miss D Marc Staal) and Rick Nash. Both will see the top defensive pairings as much as possible, so it’s going to come down to the secondary scorers. For Washington, that means guys like Mike Ribeiro, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, and Mike Green will need to produce. For New York, it’s Derek Stepan (who actually led the team in scoring), Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards, and Carl Hagelin.
Advantage: Even – if you look at the projected line combos for each team, they are almost mirror images of one another
Defenseman: If Marc Staal was healthy, the Rangers would have a big advantage. He’s been assigned the duty of shadowing Ovechkin in the past, and has done well with it. There’s still no time table for his return, but the Rangers still have top notch guys like Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. Michael Del Zotto can move the puck, but he will need to cut down on the defensive lapses against an opportunistic team like Washington. As for the Caps, Mike Green is their top puck-mover, John Erskine provides the physicality, and John Carlson and Karl Alzner provide balance.
Advantage: Rangers – I’d take Mike Green over Michael Del Zotto, but I’d take the rest of the Rangers blueline, even without Staal, over the Caps.
Goaltending: Braden Holtby (23-12-1. 2.58 GAA, 920 save %) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (24-16-3, 2.05 GAA, .926 Save %)
–The Rangers have the edge with last year’s Vezina winner. Lundqvist may be the better goalie, but Holtby isn’t far behind in numbers. Holtby also had four shutouts to Lundqvist’s two in 2012-13. Holtby became the starter right before last year’s playoffs, and wasn’t fazed by being a young goalie in a big spot. Last years’ experience will only help. It would help the Rangers immensely if Henrik could steal a game or two like he has in past playoff rounds.
Advantage: Rangers – but not by much.
Special Teams: Capitals Power Play (26.8% – Ranked 1st overall), Capitals Penalty Kill (77.9% – Ranked 27th overall). Rangers Power Play (15.7% – Ranked 23rd overall), Rangers Penalty Kill (81.1% – 15th overall)
-The Rangers anemic power play and the Capitals awful penalty kill wash each other out. The Capitals top-ranked power play is their best weapon. With Mike Green healthy and Ovechkin playing like the old Ovie, they can be downright scary with the man-advantage. The Rangers are a much better team when they get the first goal, so staying out of the box early in games will be key.
Advantage: Capitals, by a lot.
Coaching: John Tororella has his name on the Stanley Cup already, while Adam Oates is in his first season. Adam Oates has injected new life in to the Caps, while there have been rumors that the Rangers are beginning to tune out Tortorella’s gruff ways. That being said, I’ll always take experience over the new guy in the playoffs.
Prediction: Rangers over Capitals in 7 games – Defense and goaltending wins championships, and the Rangers have the edge in both categories. The Rangers PK is good enough to keep the Capitals PP from totally dominating. Both teams have the firepower to score a lot, but the first to three goals
Other First Round Predictions:
Pittsburgh over NY Islanders in 5 Games
Ottawa over Montreal in 6 games
Boston over Toronto in 6 games
Chicago over Minnesota in 5 games
Anaheim over Detroit in 5 games
Vancouver over San Jose in 7 games
Los Angeles over St. Louis in 6 games