Rangers aim to open series against Capitals strong: Klein and Sheppard ready to go

Bobby Bevilacqua

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The Rangers will have to be responsible defensively when going up against Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, something that will be a focal point of this series. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Following the conclusion of the final game in the first round, with the Tampa Bay Lightning advancing to face the Montreal Canadiens, the Semifinals matchups can commence. The New York Rangers open up their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup against the Washington Capitals, a team they are very familiar with, at Madison Square Garden.

This is the first playoff meeting between these two rivals since 2013, but the fourth since the 2011 playoffs. Some players from both the Capitals and Rangers have remained with their respective squads, so there is definitely some familiarity and bad blood between these two teams.

Washington has had less rest than New York since their first round series concluded, with only two days off, but they did have to travel to Manhattan as well. They took out the Islanders in a grueling seven game series full of hard hitting, tough defensive play, and intensity.

Braden Holtby was in net for six of those seven games, missing Game 2 with an illness, a game that was won by replacement Philipp Grubauer. In the six games, Holtby was 3-3 with a 1.63 GAA and a .943 save percentage, very strong stats. But as we have seen in the playoffs, some fatigue is starting to show, from both his style of play as well as the fact that he has played a total of 79 games this season. He’s a good goalie, but he’s not unbeatable.

There are three main players to look out for on the Capitals. Alex Ovechkin is known around the league for his patented one-timer, and his amazing ability to score goals at will. He had five points (2-3-5) in the first round, with the Islanders focusing on containing him. That left opportunities for other players to contribute.

Nicklas Backstrom had one heck of a series. Not only is he able to thread passes through a multitude of players, but this is a former 33 goal scorer, a fact that often goes forgotten. Backstrom led all Capitals skaters with six points in the first round, contributing three goals, including one game winner. He can go unnoticed, and Backstrom has the ability to punish teams that forget about him.

Back in the 2012 playoffs, the Rangers had a promising rookie in Chris Kreider scoring goals and helping to win games in the postseason. The Capitals’ Evgeny Kuznetsov, a 22 year old playing in his first full season in the NHL, was tied with Backstrom for the most goals in the first seven games (3). Kuznetsov scored the game winner in Game 7 on a gorgeous move driving to the net, and is another player that will be a force on the ice.

On defense, Washington is led by John Carlson on defense, contributing a goal and three assists in the first round. They also have Mike Green, who was surprisingly quiet with two assists, but he is also a former 30 goal scorer from the blue line. Karl Alzner scored twice against the Islanders, and Matt Niskanen contributed three helpers.

Henrik Lundqvist is coming off of a spectacular series against the Penguins, allowing just one goal in all four of the Rangers’ wins, compiling a 1.53 GAA and a .939 save percentage. The games were all low shot games, which is usually harder on a goalie. The Capitals will certainly be giving Henrik more work, so he will need to be on top of his game yet again. This series could present another goaltending battle, and Lundqvist is up to the task.

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Henrik Lundqvist was spectacular in the first round against the Pittsburgh, and he will need to be just as good starting tonight. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.


Derick Brassard has been the Rangers best postseason performer since 2012, performing as almost a point-per-game player and coming through in the clutch for New York. Brassard led the team with three goals, all coming at very important times in the game. You can always see the fire and determination in his eyes, and he’s out to win. He’ll be an impact player for sure.

With Mats Zuccarello out of the lineup for an indefinite amount of time, Martin St. Louis will need to step up in his place. Admittedly he wants to have more of an impact in the second round, and I think he will. In past articles, I’ve talked about how Holtby’s lateral movement isn’t great and he over challenges often. St. Louis’ specialty throughout his career has been the bad angle one timer from the right faceoff circle. On the power play and at even strength, look for Brassard and Nash to link up with St. Louis, and have a much bigger impact in this series.

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Martin St. Louis wants to have a bigger impact , and on the top line with Brassard and Nash, I think he will. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.


James Sheppard is also back in the lineup for the Rangers on the fourth line. When he has played, his effort is through the roof, and he isn’t afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice. Hopefully the chemistry of the fourth line is retained, and they remain an effective force.

The defensive effort from the Rangers is extremely important, especially against the Capitals top line. When Ovechkin and Backstrom are on the ice, expect Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to be out there. If they’re not available, Staal and Klein will be out there. Klein’s defensive responsibility will definitely help solidify the back end for the Rangers. The name of the game is shutting down Washington’s top line, which will be a focal point of Alain Vigneault’s game plan.

The Rangers and the Capitals will face off at Madison Square Garden at 7:30 PM. The game will be broadcasted on NBCSN.

EXPECTED LINES (Not Confirmed)

Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Martin St. Louis

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-JT Miller

Carl Hagelin-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-James Sheppard

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle-Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist


Posted on April 30, 2015, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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