Playoff Pregame #14: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers

#7 Washington Capitals at #1 New York Rangers
Location: Madison Square Garden
7:30 PM
TV: NBC Sports Network (HD)
Radio: 1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Series Tied 3-3
Game 1:   Apr 28, 2012, WSH@NYR, 1-3 L
Game 2:   Apr 30, 2012, WSH@NYR, 3-2 W
Game 3:   May  2, 2012, NYR@WSH, 1-2 L (3OT)
Game 4:   May  5, 2012, WSH@NYR, 3-2 W
Game 5:   May  7, 2012, NYR@WSH, 2-3 L (OT)
Game 6:   May  9, 2012, WSH@NYR, 2-1 W
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:  D Steve Eminger (212 GP, 2002-08)
Former Ranger:  RW Mike Knuble (141 GP, 1998-2000)
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Can the high-flying Capitals leapfrog the Rangers? Read on.

Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images

The Washington Capitals are back where they were in 2009, on the cusp of a truly remarkable season.  They are again playing a game 7 they forced by staving off elimination, only this time the pressure is on their opponent.  They also don’t have home ice advantage, but these Capitals do have the advantage over the 2009 edition of a more stable twenty-something rookie goaltender, a younger #2 center and an older #1 center, better health throughout the lineup, and a lot more depth at defense.  Should the Capitals win, they will join the Western Conference Finalist Los Angeles Kings as the only two teams to knock off the #1 and #2 Conference playoff seeds in recent memory, and will leave the Phoenix Coyotes as the only remaining division champion alive in the playoffs.  So much for home ice in these playoffs.  Should they lose, we can still congratulate the team on a Cinderella run after a very trying season, as they have already exceeded expectations in these playoffs. 

The New York Rangers are also on the cusp of their first conference final berth since the late 1990s, only this time they don’t have Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.  They do have a fast-paced, in-your-face game-plan, a game-plan that has been mostly muted at even-strength for the past two games.  Their all-star goalie has been keeping them in games, but his Achilles heel has been exposed by the Capitals enough times to make a difference.  The Rangers are a very dangerous team that the Capitals have been able to keep in check, but little mistakes against an aggressive team can easily end up in the Capitals’ net, especially if the Rangers have a man-advantage.  If the Capitals remain vigilant with their gameplan of frustrating the Rangers, they will have an excellent chance of taking down the top seed in the East. 

Injury Report: Capitals’ G Tomas Vokoun (groin) is out.  C Jay Beagle (lower body) and D Mike Green (lower body) are day-to-day. 
-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:

Hendricks’ Jimmy:  Who knew Matt Hendricks was so good at faceoffs? His ability to jimmy the puck loose on defensive draws against Brad Richards was a major factor in the Capitals winning in spite of the absence of top faceoff man Jay Beagle. Hendricks has already been Mr. Everything for the Capitals this postseason, but look for his faceoff dominance to continue, as well.

Made Marian:  The Rangers’ top offensive threat in the regular season has finally started asserting himself in the playoffs, too. The bad news for the Caps is Marian Gaborik has been putting up the points at key moments in games. Always a speedy goal scorer, Gaborik has also been showing off his impressive playmaking ability in this series, making him a true triple threat and a handful for the Washington defense. 

Seminal Moment:  With just one assist since ending a 3-game goal streak in Game 5 against Boston, Alexander Semin hasn’t heard his name called over the PA system for a while.  It hasn’t been for lack of effort, as Semin’s work in the offensive zone resulted in a “third assist” on Jason Chimera’ game-winning goal on Wednesday.  In fact, with the Rangers paying so much attention to Semin, his linemates have had more room and have been drawing penalties and producing in bunches in the past few games.  Good Sasha’s work in the defensive zone over the past 5 games has resulted in a +2 rating and only one penalty in that span, not to mention 4 hits and a 6/3 takeaway/giveaway ratio.  It is unusual for Semin to be playing this well and stay of the scoresheet for long, so look for him to break out with a big game for all the marbles, just like he did against the Rangers in 2009.