Playoff Pregame #1: Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers

#1 Washington Capitals (48-23-11) vs. #8 New York Rangers (44-33-5)
Location:  Verizon Center
7:30 PM
TV Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Radio 106.7 FM, 1500AM
Previous Games:
Nov 9, 2010 NYR@WSH 5-4 W
Dec 12, 2010 WSH@NYR 0-7 L
Jan 24, 2011 WSH@NYR 1-2 SOL
Feb 25, 2011 NYR@WSH 0-6 L
Next Game: Apr 15, 2011 NYR@WSH, 7:30pm
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:   Steve Eminger (2002-2008)
Former Rangers:  Mike Knuble (1998-2000), Tom Poti (2002-2006)
Know The Enemy: Our Bloguin Partner: The New York Rangers Blog, Sports Haze, Blueshirt Banter

See What’s At Stake!

The Stanley Cup

The #1 seed Washington Capitals are heading into the postseason for the fourth straight year and are hoping for better results.  They have been resting a number of veterans and enter the playoffs with only a few players still on the shelf, though they are important players.  The Caps are an older, wiser team this year than last, and their defensive system should serve them well in these playoffs.  They have excellent depth and plenty of talent to go a long way this year. 

The New York Rangers almost lost their playoff berth on the last day of the regular season again, but were able to sneak in after the Carolina Hurricanes lost their final game.  The Rangers faced the Capitals in the first round the last time they made the playoffs, back in 2009.  The Rangers were able to extend that series to 7 games, but eventually fell when Sergei Fedorov’s late-game strike sealed the deal.  The Rangers, who have been battling injuries all year, recently lost #2 scorer Ryan Callahan to a broken leg.  Slovakian superstar Marian Gaborik has been inconsistent all season, and the Rangers don’t have much scoring depth behind him.  The Rangers are vulnerable to a quick exit if the Caps can jump on them early or if their top players slump at all. 

Injury Report:  Capitals’ defensemen Mike Green (head) is expected to make his return.  Dennis Wideman (leg hematoma), and Tom Poti (groin) are out.  C Jason Arnott (undisclosed) is listed as questionable.
-The Rangers expect to be without RW Ryan Callahan (broken leg), LW Derek Boogaard (shoulder), G Martin Biron (broken collarbone), and RW Alexander Frolov (knee).

Three Things To Watch For:

King Henrik:  Rangers superstar goalie Henrik Lundqvist is on the short list of Vezina Trophy candidates as best goaltender this season after posting 36 wins and 11 shutouts to go along with a sparking 2.28 Goals Against Average and .923 Save Percentage.  The Caps know first-hand how good he is as two of those wins and shutouts came at the Caps expense.  If the Rangers are going to stand a chance in this series, Lundqvist is going to have to stand on his head, and he will have to do it alone.   Injured Rangers backup goalie Martin Biron has not played a game since February 7, and Lundqvist has played every game since.  Expect Lundvist to wear down as the series goes along, especially if the Capitals can keep him moving side-to-side.  Lundqvist is especially good at covering the lower portions of the net, but is vulnerable high on his glvoe side and is also just as prone to letting in goals on screens, deflections, and rebounds as any other goalie.  The Caps will have to crowd his crease and shoot high early and often if they expect to do any damage.

Captain Clutch:  Rangers Captain Chris Drury has only played 24 games this season due to knee and finger injuries, and he is a shell of his former self offensively.  The 34-year old center is being counted on to fill the leadership void left by Ryan Callahan, but don’t expect all of his contributions to be off the ice.  Drury is still an excellent penalty killer and is a crackerjack on faceoffs, but his most dangerous ability is scoring in the clutch.  Drury, who only returned from injury on the last day of the regular season, scored the first goal of the game to spark the Rangers to a much needed victory.  It was his only goal this season, but it came at the right time.  Drury has been a winner all his life and his return can only mean good things for the Rangers. 

Hendricks the Rock Star:  Even though Caps RW Matt Hendricks will be starting this series out on the fourth line, expect him to be a major player against the Rangers.  Hendricks was the team’s leading scorer against the Rangers in the regular season (2 Goals, 3 points, 1 shootout goal) and also had two fights.  Hendricks, the team’s Masterton Trophy nominee, is always a buzzsaw on the forecheck and in front of the enemy cage.  He is a very physical player with surprising soft hands.  It’s not enough to say Hendricks will do anything for his team, he’s good at just about everything, and he’ll volunteer to block a shot or fight a tough guy, and do it with a smile on his face.  While all of the attention is on Ovechkin and Semin, expect Hendricks to catch the Rangers looking the other way.