Playoff Pregame #10: Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers

#7 Washington Capitals vs. #1 New York Rangers
Location: Verizon Center
7:30 PM
TV: NBC Sports Network (HD)
Radio: 1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Series Schedule:
Game 1:   Apr 28, 2012, WSH@NYR, 1-3 L
Game 2:   Apr 30, 2012, WSH@NYR, 3-2 W
Game 4:   May  5, 2012, NYR@WSH, 12:30 PM
Game 5:   May  7, 2012, WSH@NYR, 7:30 PM
Game 6*: May  9, 2012, NYR@WSH, TBD
Game 7*: May 12, 2012, WSH@NYR, TBD
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals: D Steve Eminger (212 GP, 2002-08)
Former Ranger:  RW Mike Knuble (141 GP, 1998-2000)
Know The Enemy: Our Bloguin Partner: The New York Rangers Blog, Blueshirt Banter

Can the Rangers match our mythical monster?  Read on.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals bounced back in Game 2 after a listless Game 1 loss to send this semifinal series back to Verizon Center tied 1-1.  The team’s forwards showcased their speed and aggression on the forecheck, and it paid off in a big way. If the Capitals can stick to their game plan of playing solid defense and getting the puck deep in the Rangers’ zone, they will have success, as this is a team built to grind out close hockey games.  The margin of victory in this series is going to excruciatingly close just like last series against Boston, as these are two well-matched and well-managed hockey clubs.

While the Capitals have the advantage in size and skill, the New York Rangers have the veteran goalie and an axe to grind against their playoff nemesis.  The Rangers have also had the luxury of employing the same coach for several seasons, allowing the core of the team to grow up together and establish a firm identity in John Tortorella’s system.  With that solid identity and no glaring lineup holes for the first time in several years, the Rangers were also fortunate to avoid major injuries and turmoil, all major factors in them earning first seed in the East.

Injury Report: Capitals’ G Tomas Vokoun (groin) is out. 
-For the Rangers, RW Mats Zuccarello-Aasen (arm) and D Michael Sauer (concussion) are out.  C Brandon Dubinsky (lower body) is day-to-day. 

Three Things To Watch For:

Oh Captain, My Captain:   Alexander Ovechkin’s ice time dipped mightily in the last game, as he played a playoff career low 13:36.  For those people questioning his leadership ability, a two-time MVP in his prime taking his ice time like a man is as good as it gets.  To be fair, it is not unusual for Ovechkin to play far fewer minutes in games his team wins, that usually means they scored first or had the lead for an extended period.  The two major differences now under Ovechkin’s third NHL head coach are how much the ice time has dipped and how good the supporting cast around him is. Dale Hunter isn’t anchored to playing Ovechkin a set number of minutes, meaning he’s an extremely logical coach.  Ovechkin’s value as a decoy is exceptionally high, as well, as he is the only player his opponents fear, much the same way General Patton was used as a decoy before the Normandy invasion.  The Allies’ best general sat in England out of combat for a year commanding a fake 100,000 man army that really was just an aide, a driver, and a dog, so the Germans would focus their attention on him and not on the real invasion force.  It worked, and Patton was eventually given an army which he used to wage the single most successful land campaign in the history of warfare. 

A Whole Lotta Zotto:  Rangers’ defenseman Michael Del Zotto knows a thing or two about Dale Hunter-coached teams.  After all, he was John Carlson’s defense partner with the OHL London Knights when Hunter was coach.  MDZ played a big part in the Rangers’ offense in Game 2, as the slick 21-year old set up both goals and hit two posts.  On a night when he played over 25 minutes due to the benching of fellow blueliner Stu Bickel, Del Zotto also got beaten out for an icing call late in regulation that cost the Rangers dearly as they trailed by a goal.  This wouldn’t have been so noteworthy, except the Capital who beat him to the puck was 39-year old Mike Knuble.  If the Rangers expect to be able to beat the Capitals, they’ll need all 6 defensemen playing a regular shift, as not even MDZ and his mates can keep up the workload against the Caps’ forecheckers. 

Keep Your Chim Up:  Capitals winger Jason Chimera has a thing about scoring big goals in the playoffs against the Rangers.  Four goals in 7 games against one foe over two playoff years is good for anyone, but considering Chimera has just 2 goals in his other 24 playoff games, it means he’s a bona-fide Ranger killer.  With his size, speed, and willingness to throw his weight around in the corners, Chimera is playing a big role in Hunter’s system.  Look for him to have a major impact again tonight no matter which line he’s on.