Playoff Pregame #9: 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 Schedule:
Game 1:   Apr 28, 2012, WSH@NYR, 1-3 L
Game 3:   May  2, 2012, NYR@WSH, 7:30 PM
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

We saw Bad Sasha last game.  Will he be good tonight?

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After four years under Bruce Boudreau, it must seem odd for a 3-1 game to seem high-scoring.  After five months under Dale Hunter, especially after a tough first round playoff series that saw three goals or fewer in 4 of 7 games, the Capitals’ defense is starting to look thin.  One-time all star defender Mike Green was victimized for two of the goals, and only one Ranger goal was scored from more than 6 feet away.  The Capitals must adjust to the Rangers’ offensive scheme, and they must be willing to play more offense against a team they averaged 3.25 goals per game against in the regular season.  The Capitals were able to eliminate the Rangers from the playoffs in 2009 and 2011 because of their ability to take the play to the Rangers and outscore them, something that requires a different skill set than it took to defeat the Bruins. 

The New York Rangers rudely introduced their playoff selves to the Capitals in Game 1.  They are not the Boston Bruins, they have skill forwards capable of making their own chances, they have a goalie with strong technical ability, and they have speed.  As good as the Capitals were at keeping the Bruins forwards from getting rebound chances, the Rangers didn’t rely on that for any of their goals.  The Rangers have defensive weaknesses the Capitals were able to exploit in Game 1 for several quality chances; it will be interesting to see how the coaches make adjustments after such a short turnaround from the first round. 

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 Brian Boyle (concussion) and C Brandon Dubinsky (upper lower body) are day-to-day. 

Three Things To Watch For:

Big Bad Backstrom:  Nicklas Backstrom had several excellent plays in Game 1.  Considering his history against the Rangers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist, he should continue that trend.  As soon as Alex Ovechkin got onto his line late in the game, the chances came several times a shift, with Backstrom throwing his weight around, pickpocketing defenders, making creative passes and getting good looks at the net.  Once the bounces start going his way, the Capitals’ big Swedish Machine will be unstoppable.  

Kreider on the Storm:  Rangers rookie forward Chris Kreider is riding high.  After a point-per-game season with Boston College that netted him a national championship, he burst onto Broadway in Game 3 of their series with Ottawa.  He scored the game-winning goal in Game 6 to force Game 7, and he just introduced himself to the Washington Capitals with a goal and an assist in Game 1.  Hailed as the next Bill Guerin, Kreider is a big (6’3, 230), fast forward with good offensive instincts and obviously a big slap shot.  In the absence of Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Kreider is filling the gap for the Rangers on offense. 

Lucky Lundy:  Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist played a strong game in net for the Rangers in Game 1.  The Vezina Trophy candidate stopped 17 of 18 shots in the game, keeping his team in the game even as the Capitals pressed.  He made two stops on the Capitals’ top players that dinged the post after hitting him; he stopped Nick Backstrom from in close and stopped Alex Semin on the powerplay.  The Capitals had several other good chances ding off the post and also had a breakaway goal by Marcus Johansson disallowed.  To be sure, the officiating in the game was excellent, but one is left to wonder what could have been if the Capitals had gotten a few breaks.  Lundqvist is strong positionally, but he isn’t impregnable, and is the Caps take the shackles off the offense and keep pressing, they’ll start having luck with Lundqvist in Game 2.