Brouwer Rangers

Game 1 Preview: Rangers at Capitals

#6 New York Rangers (26-18-4) at #3 Washington Capitals (27-18-3)
Location: Verizon Center
7:30 PM
TV:  Local: Comcast SportsNet, National: NBC Sports Network, Canada: TSN
Radio: 1500AM & 820AM
Previous Games:
February 17 in New York1-2 Loss
March 10 in Washington  1-4 Loss
March 24 in New York  3-2 Shootout Win
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals: D Roman Hamrlik (72 GP, 2011-13), D Steve Eminger (212 GP, 2002-08)
Former Rangers:  RW Wojtek Wolski (46 GP, 2010-11), D Tom Poti (229 GP, 2002-06)

Not those Rangers! Read on!

Photo by Phil Van der Vossen, Capitals Outsider

The Southeast Division Champion Washington Capitals enter their fourth playoff series in the past five years against the New York Rangers.  With home ice advantage and a deep, healthy lineup at all positions, the Capitals are favored in this series and are well positioned to make a deep run into the postseason, not to mention avenge last season's second-round loss.  Their up-tempo, attacking style is a far cry from the defensive system they employed under Head Coach Dale Hunter last season, and the Caps' players have taken to it nicely over the last couple of months.  They will need to find the scoresheet early against the Rangers, to have success, but they will also need to keep attacking throughout the game to keep the Rangers from pinning them in their own zone.  Their head coach, Adam Oates, may be new to this rivalry, but he isn't new to the Rangers; he was an assistant coach in New Jersey last season when the Devils took down the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final. He brings a positive attitude and an analytical mind to the team, which should give the Capitals a decided advantage with the long wait to start the series. 

The New York Rangers are itching to get this series started. "We're tired of practicing," said Rangers coach John Tortorella. The Rangers will win or lose based on how well they adhere to Tortorella's system, a hard-forechecking system that demands maximum defensive effort.  The Rangers have been disciplined this season, taking the fewest penalties in the league this year.  If that trend continues, they will be able to keep the Caps top-ranked powerplay unit off the ice and keep the score lower, which works to their advantage.  If the Rangers are able to keep the puck pinned in the Capitals zone, their shot-blocking defensmen and all-world goalie in Henrik Lundvist will be able to keep what's left of the Capitals potent offense off the scoresheet. The Capitals can be sure that the Rangers will keep coming for 60 minutes or longer, as Tortorella is known for driving his players hard.  If the Caps can force the Rangers into mistakes, it could grind them down mentally over a long series as they'll be taking a tongue-lashing from their coach on top of their on-ice miscues.

Injury Report: Capitals' C Brooks Laich (hernia surgery) is out. RW Joel Ward (knee) is probable. 
-For the Rangers, D Marc Staal (eye), RW Ryane Clowe (leg, head), RW Derek Dorsett (broken collarbone), and C Brian Boyle (right leg) are out, but may return at some point during the first round.

Three Things To Watch For:

Russian Roulette:  For years the Rangers had to pick their poison against the Capitals' talented stable of Russian forwards. In 2009, Alexander Semin and Viktor Kozlov scored game-winning goals before Sergei Fedorov closed out the series with the Game 7 winner (and don't forget it was Semyon Varlamov who shut them down in goal). In 2011, Alexander Semin scored in sudden death and Alex Ovechkin potted the Game 5 series winner. Even last year, Ovechkin scored the winning goal in Game 2.  The Capitals are down to just Ovechkin and occasionally Dmitry Orlov these days, but Ovie is dangerous enough by himself.  Not only did he lead the league in goals this season, but he has 9 goals and 17 points in 19 playoff games against the Rangers.  The Rangers, on the other hand, are Russian-less after the trade of Artem Anisimov to Columbus for Rick Nash. 

Monster Nash:  Speaking of Rick Nash, he is certainly enjoying his time in Manhattan.  One of the five Broadway Blue Jackets, Nash has rounded back into dominating force by posting 21 goals and 42 points in 44 games this season. The 6'4, 213-lb winger has the grace of a tightrope walker with the strength of a bull, making him extremely hard to contain when he has the puck, something the Caps know all to well.  Rick Nash is known as a Capital killer.  In the last 9 games Nash has played against the Capitals, he has scored 7 goals and 13 points.  He has only been held scoreless in two of those games: Ovechkin's first NHL game in October 2005 and the last game at Madison Square Garden in March.  If the Capitals want to have any chance of winning this series, they'll have to keep the puck off Nash's stick arond their goal. 

Safety Dan:  Whatever else happens in this series will be secondary to the matchup of All-Star defenseman Dan Girardi versus Alex Ovechkin.  These two players dominate their teams' strategies for a long series like this. Alex Ovechkin plays about 21 minutes per game, but you can expect to see Dan Girardi play upwards of 26 minutes a night in an attempt to shut him down.  Girardi excels at all defensive aspects of the game, he is always sound positionally, has a great stick, and excels at getting his body into shooting lanes.  He is a nightmare matchup for Ovechkin, because Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are quite possibly the best shutdown defense pairing in the entire NHL.  Fortunately for the Caps, the Rangers are pretty thin after them, so getting Ovechkin away from Girardi on faceoffs tonight is going to be key. 

Follow Andy Green on Twitter.