Game 2 Preview: Rangers at Capitals

#6 New York Rangers at #3 Washington Capitals
Capitals Lead Series 1-0
Location:  Verizon Center
12:30 PM
TV:  Local/National: NBC, Canada: TSN
Radio: 1500AM & 820AM
Previous Game:
Game 1, May 2 in Washington: 3-1 W
Remaining Games:
Game 3, May 6 in New York, 7:30 PM
Game 4, May 8 in New York, 7:30 PM
Game 5*, May 10 in Washington, 7:30 PM
Game 6*, May 12 in New York, TBD
Game 7*, May 13 in Washington, TBD
*If necessary
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:  D Steve Eminger (212 GP, 2002-08)

No sitting around!  Read on!

Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

The last time the Washington Capitals won the first game of their playoff series against the New York Rangers was 2011 when they took downof the Blueshirts in 5 games. If Thursday night was any indication, this series may be over that soon.  The Capitals came out of the gate storming, hemming the Rangers in their own end, keeping the puck away from Braden Holtby, and generating lots of scoring chances while avoiding the Rangers' shotblockers.  Even after the Capitals gave up the first goal , they didn't lose faith, instead they stuck to the system and came away with a 3-1 victory that wasn't as close as the score indicated.  The Capitals made mental mistakes that led to turnovers, but goaltender Braden Holtby was there to bail them out every time, something the Capitals can expect again on Saturday.  If the Caps can cut back on the self-inflicted damage, the Rangers will have a tough time generating offense and the Caps should have their way with them again. 

Don't expect the New York Rangers to take defeat lying down, though.  Head Coach John Tortorella is a grizzled playoff veteran with a Stanley Cup on his resume and the playoff MVP from that team centering his top scoring winger.  Even though Capitals coach Adam Oates clearly made better use of the four days off and out-coached him in Game 1, Tortorella knows how to make adjustments and get more effective play from his skaters over the course of a series.  Look for the Rangers to be able to contain the Capitals forwards better and take fewer penalties in Game 2.  Another likely focus area will likely be their heavy, 3-man forecheck; if the Rangers are able to put enough pressure on the Capitals to slow down their breakouts, they will be able to pin the Capitals in their zone and generate offense.  The Rangers may also get some reinforcements back for Game 2, as all four of their injured skaters participated in practice on Friday.  The return of any of the four players would give the Rangers an emotional boost, not to mention an immediate improvement in depth, as Kris Newbury and Arron Asham played about 5 minutes each in Game 1.  Either way, the Rangers may be down, but they're not out.

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

Three Things To Watch For:

Main Squeeze:  People who follow hockey have heard the phrase "we were gripping our sticks too hard."  Some people may think it's a cliché, but it's not, as the Caps showed in Game 1.  In what is expected to be a long playoff run, the Washington Capitals certainly felt the pressure in front of their home crowd and made some sloppy plays as a result.  The most obvious mistake was Nicklas Backstrom's giveaway that sprung Derek Stepan on a shorthanded breakaway, but the symptom on display most often on Thursday night was the inability of the Capitals players to accept passes.  When a hockey player is about to accept a pass he should have soft hands, meaning his hands and arms should relax so when the puck hits his stick it will give, allowing him to cradle the puck even after taking a hard pass.  When a player is nervous, he will naturally tense up, not wanting to make a mistake, and being that tense when you're receiving a pass usually means the puck is going to bounce off your blade and down the ice.  Many of the Caps had this disorder early in the game, but it seemed to wear off as the Capitals took control of the game and got into their groove.  If the Capitals are able to accept passes from the opening faceoff in Game 2, it means they are comfortable and should take the Rangers to task yet again on Saturday afternoon.

Return of the King:  He may have been dethroned in Game 1, but Rangers goalie "King" Henrik Lundqvist will return to form in Game 2, and he won't be giving any goals away this time.  The Capitals scored 3 goals on Thursday night without potting a rebound but, they shouldn't expect to score on him like that every game.  Lundqvist has been a remarkably solid goalie for all 8 of his NHL seasons and had a rare bad night in Game 1.  He is very difficult to beat on a first shot when he is square to the shooter and sees the puck clearly, meaning the Capitals will likely need to score off rebounds to have sustained success.  The Capitals were better than average at getting shots through the gauntlet of Rangers shotblockers in Game 1, but they didn't have enough bodies in the blue paint to screen Lundqvist and they were remarkably poor at generating shots off rebounds.  The closest thing to a rebound goal the Caps had was when Alex Ovechkin scored on a powerplay after a point shot by Mike Green bounced off the end boards.  It is difficult for any goalie to make a stop on a play like, King or not, that because the shooting angle has suddenly changed and the goalie opens up his stance so he can move laterally.   If the Capitals want to have sustained success, these are the types of goals they'll need to score. 

Sticking to your Ribs:  While Capitals second line center Mike Ribeiro didn't find the scoresheet on Thursday night, his line certainly presented a matchup problem for the Rangers' defense with their ability to avoid shotblockers and generate scoring chances.  Unless the Rangers get the services of Marc Staal back or split up the top pairing of  Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi who currently face the Caps' top line, don't expect the Rangers' defense to be able to contain that line.  That  line's chances included one less than six minutes into Game 1:  Ribeiro sprung linemate Martin Erat on a breakaway chance and Lundqvist was only barely able to trap the ensuing slapshot between his arm and body.  Later in the game, Ribeiro slipped his coverage and received a pass all alone in front of the Rangers' goal with plenty of time to set up a good shot.  Ribeiro is also a major factor on the Capitals' powerplay and helped set up Alex Ovechkin's goal, even if he didn't get an assist.  With the way Ribeiro is playing, he will start piling up points before long and generate the secondary scoring the Capitals need to advance.

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