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Series Preview, Round 2: Rangers vs. Capitals

Bobby Bevilacqua

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For the fourth time in five years, the Rangers and Capitals will faceoff in the playoffs again. The Rangers won the last meeting in seven games back in 2013. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

For the fourth time in the last five seasons, the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals will face off in the playoffs. If the past matchups are indicative of this year’s playoff series, Rangers and Capitals fans are in for a treat.

After a grueling seven game series with the New York Islanders, the Capitals were able to come away with a 2-1 win in the final game of the series, limiting the Islanders to just 11 shots on goal and advancing to face the New York Rangers.

The last time that the Rangers and Capitals met in the postseason was back in 2013, with the Rangers coming away with the series win in seven games. With the Capitals up 3-2 heading into Game 6, Henrik Lundqvist came through in the clutch, delivering back-to-back shutouts to give New York the series win.

This season, New York won three of the four meetings against the Capitals, including a 4-2 win in the last game of the season. In those games, the Rangers have managed to score a total of 13 goals, all against Braden Holtby, who will be in net for this series.

The first game was a 4-2 New York win on December 23rd, with Rick Nash scoring his first hat trick as a member of the Rangers. Lundqvist stopped 30 of the 32 shots that he faced.

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Rick Nash scored his first hat trick as a Ranger back on December 23rd against the Capitals. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

The Rangers backed that up with a 3-1 win at the Verizon Center on March 11th, the game that Kevin Klein broke his arm. JT Miller, Carl Hagelin, and Martin St. Louis all scored in this game, and Cam Talbot was remarkable in net, making 28 saves.

The only Capitals win came on March 29th, a 5-2 Rangers defeat at Madison Square Garden. Alex Ovechkin had two goals, including one on the power play, and Jason Chimera also netted two goals. Braden Holtby made 23 saves on 25 shots.

But New York answered that with a 4-2 win in D.C. to close out the season. Kevin Hayes, Derick Brassard, Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast all scored, and Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves en route to his 30th win of the season.

When looking at the Capitals’ team, it’s easy to see their talent by just looking at the top line. Alex Ovechkin is the best pure scorer in the NHL, capturing the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with a league-leading 53 goals this season. Ovechkin has a remarkably accurate wrist shot, and the best one-timer in the world. In the four games between the Rangers and Capitals this season, Ovechkin had five goals, including four on the power play.

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Alex Ovechkin, the captain of the Capitals, is the biggest threat to score at any given time. The Rangers will need to do everything they can to contain him. Photo courtesy of Evan Habeeb – USA TODAY Sports.

 

Centering him is one of the most underrated players in the entire league, if not the most underrated, Nicklas Backstrom. Year after year he has put up solid numbers, and this season was no different. Backstrom led the NHL in assists with 60, adding 18 goals for a 78 point season. Backstrom led the Capitals in the first round, with three goals and three assists in seven games. With most of the attention focused on Ovechkin, Backstrom cannot be forgotten, because he can certainly catch you by surprise.

Alongside the obvious two offensive leaders, the Capitals have a decent supporting cast. Joel Ward plays the right wing alongside Ovechkin and Backstron, and is very good along the boards and battling for pucks. Evgeny Kuznetsov is really developing into a good young player, scoring three goals in the playoffs, including the winning goal in Game 7. And then there are guys like Marcus Johansson, Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera providing some forward depth.

Under Barry Trotz, the Capitals have most dramatically improved on defense. John Carlson is coming off of a career year, posting 55 points including another four (1-3-4) in the playoffs. Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Mike Green and Karl Alzner solidify the back end, a complete opposite of Pittsburgh’s situation in the first round.

Goaltending is arguably the most important aspect of a team in the playoffs, and Braden Holtby has been a very good goalie throughout the season. The Rangers know him well from past playoff matchups, where Holtby has performed very well. In the series against the Islanders he was 3-3, missing one game due to illness, with a .943 save percentage and a 1.63 GAA. With that in mind, there are some ways to expose him according to MSG analyst Steve Valiquette.

The biggest factor in this series will be the “Holtby fatigue factor.” Out of 82 regular season games this season, Holtby played in 73 of them, almost all starts. Coupled with six playoff games, and that’s practically a full season of hockey. According to Valiquette, you’re starting to see the fatigue in his play and in the goals allowed recently.

Holtby tends to move a lot in his crease, over challenging on low danger plays. He tends to stay at the top of his crease often, leaving room for rebound opportunities. Because he is constantly moving and challenging a lot, the Rangers would be smart to use lateral passing, keeping Holtby moving and tire out his legs early in the series. If they do that, the Rangers have a really great chance at winning.

Contrast the Capital’s goaltending to the Rangers, and New York looks to have a pretty significant upper hand. Compared to Holtby’s 73 games in the regular season, Lundqvist played in just 46. He’s coming off of a spectacular series against the Penguins, with a 4-1 record, a .939 save percentage, and a 1.53 GAA. His style of play is very different from Holtby’s, with Henrik staying deeper in his net and challenging a lot less. Combine that with the fact that he has played nearly 30 games less than Washington’s netminder, and Lundqvist should have the upper hand.

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Henrik Lundqvist was stellar in the first round of the playoffs, allowing just eight goals in five games, including four games with only one goal against. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

The Rangers didn’t score a ton of goals in the first round, with the Penguins focusing very heavily on shutting down the Rangers’ speed. Rick Nash (1-3-4), Derick Brassard (3-1-4), and Ryan McDonagh (1-3-4) all tied for the most points on the team in the first round. Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan each scored twice, and Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes chipped in with a goal of their own.

With Mats Zuccarello out for the foreseeable future, Martin St. Louis will have to step up his play on the top line alongside Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. He admittedly didn’t have his best first round, and wants to have a bigger impact. St. Louis is a veteran, and knows how to bounce back from rough patches. I think St. Louis will have a better series against the Capitals. Not only is he paired with the elite talent on the Rangers, but he’s an excellent passer and playmaker. Look for him to make those cross-ice passes that’ll get Holtby moving from side to side, taking advantage of his fatigue.

The return of Kevin Klein will also help the Rangers in a few aspects. Not only is he a steady defensive force alongside Keith Yandle. But Klein has been pretty clutch this season. Four of his career high nine goals were game winners, and his offensive game has been a really nice surprise throughout the season. With Yandle’s puck moving ability, I’m excited to see Klein’s cannon of a slap shot one timing passes at Holtby.

I also think Rick Nash will have a good series. He actually played quite well in the first round, with four points and strong play all over the ice. He’s actually one of the better two way forwards in the league, evident by his use on the penalty kill, and his tremendous hockey sense for intercepting passes and disrupting plays. Even when he isn’t scoring, he is doing things to help the Rangers win. But with Ovechkin on the Capitals, New York will turn to Nash to contend with his goal scoring ability, and I think he will do just that.

Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are always extremely important to the Rangers, they will be even more important in this series. McDonagh and Girardi will almost always be on the ice when Ovechkin is, trying to contain that lethal top line for the Capitals. They have a good track record against the Capitals top line, and their defensive effort will be extremely important in this matchup.

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Ryan McDonagh was very good against the Penguins, but the captain will need to bring his “A-game” defensively against Ovechkin and the Capitals. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

As long as the Rangers stick to their system, implement their speed, and exploit Holtby’s weaknesses, they should be fine. The Capitals style of play doesn’t deter the Rangers like it does other team, and New York hasn’t had a problem when it comes to using their speed and style of play against the Capitals, and with James Sheppard back in the lineup, they can also combat Washington’s size.

The series kicks off Thursday night at Madison Square Garden at 7:30 PM. Get ready for a competitive, hard fought series between two familiar foes.

Below is the schedule for the series against the Capitals.

Game 1: 4/30 at 7:30 PM (NBCSN)

Game 2: 5/2 at 12:30 PM (NBC)

Game 3: 5/4 at 7:30 PM (NBCSN)

Game 4: 5/6 at 7:30 PM (NBCSN)

Game 5: 5/8 at 7:00 PM (NBCSN)

Game 6: 5/10 TBD

Game 7: 5/12 or 5/13 TBT

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Posted on April 29, 2015, in Rangers Updates and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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