Here we go again. For the fourth time in the last five years the Caps and Rangers will meet in the playoffs. And this year it may end up being the most exciting. The Caps and their captain spent most of the year reliving their past as they struggled through the worst division in hockey and experts told everyone they were done. Then they roared back. Ovechkin came form 11 goals down to lead the league in goals by scoring 23 goals in 23 game. The power play started clicking and the Caps won their division looking like offensive juggernauts once again. The Rangers struggled through a strange and inconsistent season themselves before turning things around at the trade deadline. They finished the last month on a hot streak and enter the postseason with a clean slate. Both teams are coming in relatively hot, and both teams have players that aren’t afraid to mix it up, particularly the two captains. This series could end up being the most entertaining of the first round. Given the two cities and all the super stars, I’m wiling to bet it will be the most talked about for better or worse. The Capitals are clearly the better offensive team but the Rangers have arguably the best goalie in the league on their side.
Matchup to watch:
Alex Ovechkin vs. Dan Girardi and Ryan Mcdonagh
While Ovechkin is on a hot streak right now, the Blueshirts top defensive pairing are no slouches. Both Girardi and Mcdonagh are work horses playing nearly 27 minutes a game. Both will be physical against the big forward and even chip in some offense as well.
Players to watch:
Brad Richards – I assume no Ranger is happier about a clean slate then Richards who had a very poor year, but an excellent last two weeks. He can be a dominant force in the playoffs and get all his fans back. He has showed som chemistry with Nash and Zuccarello that has made them a dangerous line.
Nicklas Backstrom – The Washington Center pissed a large portion of the season due to injury and it’s not a coincidence that he and Ovechkin started heating up at the same time. The versatile center is the engine for one of the most productive line in hockey. Shutting him down will help cut down scoring chances for that line. He also will probably benefit for the extra attention being paid to his line mate and may see some open ice.
The Power plays- The Capitals had the best unit in the league and their forwards are not afraid to shoot the puck. The Rangers have the 15th best kill in the league, way down from last years stupendous numbers. The Rangers have the 23rd best power play, but they have been much improved since the trade deadline and the Caps have the worst penalty kill in the league. It’s common sense that taking penalties is bad for your team, but these number really put added emphasius on smart play. One high stick could swing the whole series. Just ask a Capitals fan.
The X Factor
Injured Rangers – Ryan Clowe, Marc Staal, and Brian Boyle are all out with injuries for now. All are with the team for now but only Boyle and Clowe are likely to return to the lineup this series as Staal’s vision is still an issue for him. Boyle and Clowe are big physical players that can frustrate an opponent and chip in some offense when needed. If Staal does miraculously return it would be a huge boost for the Rangers as he was one of the best blueliners in the game before he got hurt.
I like the Capitals in six. They’ve been humbled for most of the year but got their swagger back at just the right time. Sometimes a team is at it’s best after it goes through some adversity and this year it certainly looks that way. The Rangers have been so inconsistent all year it makes me uncomfortable trusting them in the playoffs. That being said, the Ranger and Lundqvist in particular should be talented enough to steal a game or two. If the injured players return and the offense steps up, it could easily go the other way.
About the Author
Written by Eric O'Connell
Eric O'Connell is Junior at St. John's University in Queens, New York but hails from Connecticut. He has been a life long fan of the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New York Rangers. Other interests include hanging out with friends, listening to music, having a good time, and Coffee Oreo Ice Cream. Follow on Twitter @EOCONN36 (opinions are mine and not Pro Sports Blogging)