Pregame #82: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers

Washington Capitals (41-32-8) at New York Rangers (51-23-7)
Location: Madison Square Garden
6:30 PM
TV: NBC Sports Network (HD)
Radio: 1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Previous Games:
Nov 25, 2011 NYR@WSH, 3-6 L
Dec 28, 2011 NYR@WSH, 4-1 W
Feb 12, 2012 WSH@NYR, 2-3 L
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals: D Steve Eminger (212 GP, 2002-08)
Former Ranger:  Mike Knuble (141 GP, 1998-2000)
Know The Enemy: Our Bloguin Partner: The New York Rangers Blog, Blueshirt Banter

What's with these Airheads? Read on!

After Thursday night's win over the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals have clinched a playoff spot for the 5th season in a row.  That win came at a price, however, as the Capitals lost starting goalie Michal Neuvirth to a leg injury as former Capital Marco Sturm fell on his leg.  Just as they finally starting getting their injured players back into lineup, the Capitals are down to their #3 and #4 goaltenders, Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin.  The presumptive playoff starter, the 22-year old Holtby is 3-2-1 this season and will play in his 21st career game tonight.  Backing him up, 31-year old Dany Sabourin has 57 NHL games under his belt, none since January 2009, and has played a total of 14 minutes in the NHL playoffs.  Fortunately, the rest of the team in front of them has quite a bit of playoff experience and enjoy playing in front of the fiery Holtby. 

Tonight's game at Madison Square Garden is a preview of a possible first-round matchup with the New York Rangers.  If the Washington Capitals win this game and either the Florida Panthers or Ottawa Senators lose their game tonight, the Capitals can escape the 8th seed.  The Rangers, on the other hand, are trying to wrap the Presidents' Trophy for the best overall record in the league and secure home-ice throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Do not expect John Tortorella to rest any starters, as he is always playing to win. 

Injury Report: Capitals' G Tomas Vokoun (groin), G Michal Neuvirth (knee), and D John Erskine (lower body).
-For the Rangers, D Steve Eminger (ankle), RW Mats Zuccarello-Aasen (arm), and D Michael Sauer (concussion) are out.

Three Things To Watch For:

Line Switcher:  Capitals head coach Dale Hunter mixed up his lines after the first period on Thursday, moving Brooks Laich back up with Alexander Ovechkin and moved Nick Backstrom to Alexander Semin's line.  The moved worked wonders, as the Caps scored a bunch of goals.  The challenge for the Rangers will be deciding which line to match up All-Star defender Dan Girardi against.  Girardi usually matches up against Alexander Ovechkin, and he usually blocks more than his share of shots in the process.  If the Backstrom-Semin line proves more potent, Tortorella may have an interesting choice to make.  

Hounding Gabby:  On the other side of the coin, Dale Hunter will more than likely match up the hard-working line of Hendricks-Beagle-Brouwer with the Rangers top line of Richards and Gaborik. The Capitals match-up line scored against Florida and kept their top line off the board. They brutalized the Panthers forwards in all 3 zones and made a huge difference in the game. Look for that line to get plenty of ice time and to keep the forecheck working tonight.

Hail the King: "King" Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start tonight in a tune-up for the playoffs. The problem is the stiffness in his arm could limit him in his ability to make saves and play the puck. If the Capitals can keep the pressure on him by shooting high and forcing him to play the puck on dump-ins, they could find a few weaks spots in the armor tonight.