Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers

One of Capitals' most thrilling wins of the season, a 5-4 overtime decision on Dec. 23, came against the Rangers in New York. (By Frank Franklin II -- AP)

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin claimed his second straight Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals with 56. The 23-year-old is the focal point of the league's third-most productive offense and its second-best power play. He'll also draw the majority of the Rangers' attention. So for the Capitals to be successful, they'll need strong supporting performances from Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich as well as secondary scoring from third- and fourth-liners. The Rangers, on the other hand, have struggled offensively. Chris Drury, Nikolai Zherdev and Scott Gomez have been inconsistent, while trade deadline addition Nik Antropov is New York's leading scorer with 59 points - 51 fewer than Ovechkin.

Defense

With 31 goals and 42 assists, Mike Green led all defensemen in both categories and has positioned himself as a bona fide Norris Trophy candidate on a Capitals blue line that's thin on experience. The 23-year-old is also a threat on the power play (18 goals) and has improved his play in the defensive end. Washington's biggest concern on defense is the health of Tom Poti, who was sidelined three times for a total of 26 games with a nagging groin muscle injury and is not a sure thing for Game 1. All but one defenseman on the Rangers' roster, meantime, has a minus in front of his plus-minus rating. Deadline addition Derek Morris has provided the blue line with more experience and depth, while Wade Redden's 94 playoff games are more than all seven defensemen on Washington's roster.

Goaltending

After struggling in the first half, Capitals goaltender Josť Theodore was better in the second, though his consistency remains a concern. The 32-year-old veteran is 4-0 as the starter in the first round of the playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche, but has never advanced beyond the second round. His Rangers counterpart, Henrik Lundqvist, has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy the past three seasons and this season posted a career high for victories. The 27-year-old Swede is also the best player on the league's top-ranked penalty-kill unit. The big difference between the Capitals and Rangers when it comes to goaltending is this: Washington simply needs Theodore not to lose games, while light-scoring New York likely will need Lundqvist to steal a game or three.

Coaching

One year after winning the Jack Adams Award for leading the Capitals from last place to their first playoff berth in five years, Coach Bruce Boudreau guided his charges to a second straight Southeast Division title and the franchise record in points (108). Boudreau is a master tactician, particularly when it comes to offense, and his power-play unit established a club record for efficiency. Rangers Coach John Tortorella, meantime, started the season as a television analyst after being fired at the end of last season by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team he led to the Stanley Cup in 2004. The Rangers finished the regular season 12-7-2 under Tortorella's tutelage to clinch their fourth straight playoff berth after losing 10 of their previous 12 under Tom Renney. Tortorella is the winningest American-born coach, with 251 victories.

Prediction

Capitals in five games.

-- Tarik El-Bashir

 

ABOUT THE CAPITALS

Record: 50-24-8 (108 points)

Finish: Southeast Division champions,
No. 2 seed in Eastern Conference

Stats  |   Roster  |   Schedule

ABOUT THE RANGERS

Record: 43-30-9 (95 points)

Finish: Fourth in Atlantic Division,
No. 7 seed in Eastern Conference

Stats  |   Roster  |   Schedule

SERIES SCHEDULE

Game 1: at Washington
Wednesday, 7 p.m. | CSN, TSN

Game 2: at Washington
Saturday, 1 p.m. | NBC, TSN

Game 3: at New York
April 20, 7 p.m. | CSN, Versus, TSN

Game 4: at New York
April 22, 7 p.m. | CSN, Versus, TSN

Game 5: at Washington*
April 24, 7 p.m. | CSN, Versus, TSN, RDS

Game 6: at New York*
April 26, 2 p.m. | NBC, TSN, RDS

Game 7: at Washington*
April 28, TBD | CSN, Versus, TSN, RDS

* if neccesary

SEASON SERIES

Capitals 3, Rangers 1
November 8
Brent Johnson had 28 saves, including a pivotal stop on a penalty shot in the third period.

Capitals 5, Rangers 4 (OT)
December 23
Shaone Morrisonn scored the game-winner as Washington erased a four-goal deficit.

Capitals 2, Rangers 1
January 3
Alex Ovechkin scored a short-handed goal in the second period, breaking a 1-1 tie.

Rangers 5, Capitals 4 (OT)
February 11
The teams combined for five goals in the second period, but the Rangers prevailed when Ryan Callahan scored the decisive goal of the shootout.


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