As we learned late Thursday night with the result of the Rangers’ game seven, the Washington Capitals will face off against the Blueshirts in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It will be the third time in the last four seasons that the Caps have played the boys from Broadway in the postseason. Read on for my breakdown of the series, broken down piece by piece.
Forwards: The rangers have a very deep and balanced forward corps, just like the Bruins. Lately, however, their best forward, Marian Gaborik, has been struggling on a line with speedy rookie Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards. If this line continues to play at their decreased level, Washington’s top unit of Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Alexander Semin matches up very well. New York’s second line – Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, and rookie sensation Chris Kreider (who was playing in college three weeks ago), has the edge over Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer. The Caps have the edge on the third line, however, as Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, and Matt Hendricks have proved to be a great shutdown unit with some pepper and can control play against Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust, and a struggling Brandon Dubinsky. The Caps’ super effective fourth line of Keith Aucoin, Joel Ward, and Mike Knuble also should outclass Mike Rupp, Artem Anisimov, and John Mitchell. It is important to note that the Rangers are currently missing center Brian Boyle, one of their best players, due to a concussion. If he returns, things get a lot more interesting, but because of the shutdown ability I saw in the first round, I give the Capitals the advantage here.
Defensemen: Highlighted by magnificent performances from Karl Alzner and John Carlson in the first round, Washington’s defensive corps exceeded expectations in the first round. Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik (who was excellent, by the way) were a very good second pairing, but the third pairing, whether it was Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman or John Erskine and Wideman, was a downright disaster at even strength. Luckily, the Rangers’ final pairing of Michael Del Zotto and Stu Bickel is not much better, though they are better at 5 on 5. The Rangers’ top pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh is superb, and their second set of Marc Staal and Anton Stralman is a lot like the Caps’ second pairing with a combination of puck moving and stay at home. But after seeing the utter disarray I saw from Wideman and Orlov, the Rangers get the nod here. It’s very, very, close, however.
Goaltending: Props to Braden Holtby, really. He’s been very good in these playoffs, making some excellent saves, none better than his pad denial of Tyler Seguin in game four. But on the other end of the ice is Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the best goalie alive today and my pick for this year’s Vezina Trophy. I love Holtby, but Lundqvist has the track record and the season to back up his play. New York has the clear edge here.
Coaching: As with Holtby, I give Dale Hunter credit. He has finally gotten the Capitals to buy in to his system, and it seems as though it is built perfectly to grind out playoff hockey games, especially against low scoring teams like the Rangers. But on the other side of Pierre McGuire, John Tortorella, the angry Italian ball of fire, stands with one leg up on the bench yelling at someone or something. Torts coached his tail off in the first round, compensating for the loss of two of his best forwards for extended periods and he has the track record too. Plus, he’s won a Stanley Cup. I have the Rangers with the advantage here.
Game one of this series is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 3 PM from the world’s most famous arena.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.