Capitals vs. Rangers
Series: Best of seven games. Season series: Rangers won 3-1-0. Prediction: Capitals in five.
Records: Capitals (No. 1 seed, first place in Eastern Conference) 48-23-11, Rangers (No. 8 seed third in Atlantic Division) 44-33-5.
Both teams have struggled to create offense consistently this year, but while they are close statistically – New York's 2.73 goals per game to Washington's 2.67 -- the Capitals have arguably the greater amount of explosive options up front. Only Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Knuble posted more than 20 goals this season for the Capitals. Washington will need contributions from all of its lines but particularly from Semin, who has eight goals in 28 career playoff games and hasn't scored in the postseason since the series against the Rangers in 2009. Meanwhile, the Rangers are well balanced with five 20-goal scorers but will be without its second leading scorer, Ryan Callahan, who will miss the first round with a broken ankle. This all puts more pressure on $7.5 million man Marian Gaborik, the enigmatic winger has 12 goals in 29 career playoff games, to produce.
Once again, the Capitals and Rangers are close when considering defensive units. Washington went through it's greatly publicized transition to a more defensively sound system this year and over the last 20 games allowed only 1.85 goals per contest. The Capitals should get a boost from the expected return of Mike Green after he missed 20 games with a concussion. But wunderkind pair of John Carlson (plus-21, 22:38 minutes per game) and Karl Alzner (plus-14, 20 mpg) will likely continue to serve as the Capitals' shutdown pair. New York, meantime, has an established reputation as a shot-blocking machine led by the pairing of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who have spent their young careers shutting down Ovechkin.
In net is where, on paper, the Rangers may have a distinct advantage with veteran Henrik Lundqvist (36-27-5, .923, 2.28), who posted a league best 11 shutouts this year. The Swedish netminder has similarly strong numbers from his playoff history (.207, 2.66 in 30 games) but hasn't always had the supporting cast necessary to advance. The Capitals must crash the net consistently to try and prevent Lundqvist from gaining confidence early in the series. Washington will start rookie Michal Neuvirth (27-12-4, .914, 2.45) in his first NHL playoff series after the 23-year-old Czech carried the load in the regular season. That's not to say that Semyon Varlamov (11-9-5, .924, 2.23) won't make an appearance should Neuvirth struggle.
Capitals: Bruce Boudreau went through the toughest time of his coaching career at any level when Washington struggled back in December but has come out on the other side with a team that bought in to his new defense-first strategy. In his fourth trip to the postseason with the Capitals, though, the 56-year-old has pressure to avoid an early exit like the seven-game, first-round defeat his team suffered last spring to the Montreal Canadiens.
Rangers: Firy John Tortorella, now in his third year with New York, is respected as a great tactician and motivator, who excels at getting the most out of every player on the club he coaches. But he hasn't won a playoff series since capturing the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and lost his only postseason round as the Rangers bench boss in seven games to the Capitals back in 2009.
By Katie Carrera - The Washington Post. Published April 13, 2011.