The Washington Capitals reached (and won) the Patrick Division finals in April for many reasons. If they are to repeat that feat this spring, they will have to follow the same formula.

Some factors last season were the stuff of headlines, such as John Druce's scoring binge. But others -- such as pressuring opposing defensemen and defusing potent power plays -- are more arcane. They don't show up on the scoreboard.

Tim Bergland, a player of many positions, specializes in the arcane.

"I'll never be one to score a ton of goals," Bergland said yesterday after practice. "It's one of the parts of the game I think I can pick up, but I will always be a defensive player, a checker."

In that understated role, Bergland helped the Capitals defeat the New York Rangers in the division finals and will try to help them defeat the Rangers tonight when the teams meet at 7:30 at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers hoisted a Patrick Division regular season banner before their 6-3 victory over Minnesota Monday night. The banner is expected to be removed by the start of the game, in part because of renovations at the Garden.

That was the first title of any sort for the Rangers in nearly half a century. But when the Capitals eliminated them in five games -- with two straight overtime triumphs -- the banner lost a bit of value.

These teams met twice in the exhibition season, and there appeared to be no more excitement generated by the players than in any other exhibition game. Given that tonight's game counts in the standings and will be at the Garden, it should cause a few more sparks, jog a few more memories. Still, there will be six more after it before the regular season is over.

"There will be more energy because it's fresh in their minds," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "They'll want to prove to everybody that {the playoff loss} shouldn't have happened."

The Rangers have a couple of the top guns in the NHL in Bernie Nicholls and former Capital Mike Gartner, who had two goals Monday. John Ogrodnick, Brian Mullen and Kelly Kisio formed one of the league's better lines last season, but Kisio is out for at least five weeks with a torn ligament in his ankle. Defenseman Brian Leetch has recovered from his broken ankle.

Although the Capitals were the more physical team in their series last spring, the Rangers did not hesitate to confront opponents, and tough guy Kris King -- or at least his knee -- managed to take Dino Ciccarelli and Kevin Hatcher out of that series. Some reports suggest New York Coach Roger Neilson is looking for more aggressive players.

"When that makes headlines, then there is a possibility of something happening," Murray said. "Obviously, he is sending his team a message that he wants to be tougher. Kris King seemed to be filling that role pretty well, but you can only carry so many guys like that."

The anticipated physical nature of the game is one reason Nick Kypreos will be part of tonight's fourth line, which also will include Bergland and Dave Tippett.

Those three, along with Rob Murray and Peter Bondra, make up the group that Terry Murray is choosing from for that fourth line. Although Kypreos scored on a deflection Saturday night, it is not a unit that is expected to score a lot.

It is supposed to play defense. Some of its members also will kill penalties. Those players can set a tone or change it depending on the circumstances. But the line might play only a few minutes a game and its members won't play every night.

"You have to do the best you can and hope you are in the lineup," Bergland said. "Some nights on the bench, the fourth line doesn't get a lot of shifts, but mentally you have to stay with it."

Bergland sees extra duty as a penalty killer. That has been the case since he was called up in January. He played the last 32 games of the regular season and all 15 playoff games. Two goals and five assists in 32 games (one goal and one assist in the playoffs) are not big numbers.

But then Bergland had just 18 goals in his best season at the University of Minnesota (1986-87) and 24 goals in his best minor league season in Baltimore (1988-89). It is the other contributions that raised Bergland's stock.

"I came in thinking I had a spot and that I basically had to work my way out of a spot," Bergland said. "I don't know if that's how it was, but I played with confidence and that helped me."

Bergland grew up in Thief River Falls, Minn., near the Manitoba line, and remote by nearly any standard. Everybody in town knows most everybody else, but Bergland probably stuck out. He is now 6 feet 3, with very blond hair, and he was a hockey player at Lincoln High.

"It was a great place to grow up and hockey was No. 1," Bergland said. "We had two indoor rinks and all the outdoor ice you would want."

The Capitals drafted Bergland with their first choice (77th overall) in 1983, when Bergland had just graduated from high school. But he chose to go to college, where he met his wife, Claudia.

"High school hockey is such a big thing in Minnesota that people just played that and went to college," Bergland said. "That was the only way I ever looked at it and it helped me mature. I wasn't 17 or 18 {like many Canadian junior players} in my first training camp, which helped. But it can be a detriment to come when you're 21 or 22 because other guys have a couple years to develop."