How They Got Here
New York – The Rangers flirted with disaster in the opening round, as the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators took them to a seventh game at Madison Square Garden. But, on the back of netminder Henrik Lundqvist, New York did just enough to slip into the second round — something the other top seed was unable to do.
Washington – The Capitals stumbled through the regular season and barely made the postseason, but once they arrived, they were all about winning. Washington shocked the defending champion Boston Bruins at the TD Garden in an unbelievable game seven that required overtime before it was resolved. All seven games in that series were decided by one goal.
Regular season series was TIED, 2-2.
Nov 25th — New York 6, Washington 3
Dec 28th — New York 1, Washington 4
Feb 12th — Washington 2, New York 3
Apr 7th — Washington 4, New York 1
Keys to the Series
1. The New vs. The Old
Oh, how I love the matchup between the pipes in each series in the second round of the postseason. This one pits the Vezina Trophy finalist Henrik Lunqvist against the youngster that has emerged for the Capitals, Braden Holtby. Coming into the playoffs, Holtby had 21 career appearances compared to Lundqvist’s 468 — a little uneven if I do say so myself. But, in the opening round both goaltenders were fantastic. Holtby contained a lethal Boston attack saving 94 percent of the shots he faced and by giving up just two goals per game. Similarly, Lundqvist allowed the Senators to score just 1.70 goals per game, which was amongst the best of any of the 16 goalies in the first round. So, now the question becomes, can Holtby continue to play at the level of his veteran counterparts? It won’t be easy, but Washington certainly needs him to.
2. Capitals Offense MUST Pressure Lundqvist
This second key comes down to the number of shots on goal for each team in this series, and therefore the amount of time that is spent in each offensive zone. In the four regular season matchups, the Capitals were outshot by the Rangers, 129-87 — a truly staggering difference in scoring opportunities. Obviously this is significant because Washington possesses a number of dangerous scorers, but if they aren’t controlling the puck in their offensive zone regularly, they won’t have adequate chances to beat the sure-handed Lundqvist. The Capitals were also outshot slightly in their opening round series with the Bruins, so they certainly have some work to do if they hope to be successful in this area.
3. Penalty Kill Could Be Big
This series features two teams that are excellent on the penalty kill, which could be interesting in the series. In the first round, the Capitals gave the Bruins just two goals on 23 power play attempts (91.3 percent), including 0-for-3 in the crucial game seven. And, New York was similar in giving up only four goals on 26 penalty kill opportunities (84.6 percent). But, we also know that each team possesses the scoring options — Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards — to beat the opposing defensive unit in uneven situations. Therefore, the series could come down to which offensive group finds their group on the power play first.
Player to Watch
Alex Ovechkin, Left Wing, Washington Capitals
If you follow hockey often, this will sound like a broken record; but, Ovechkin is almost certainly the best player remaining in the NHL playoffs. However, he is coming off of one of his least impressive seasons and was somewhat of an afterthought in the opening round series with the Bruins — even though he put up a team-leading five points. I mean, five players on the Washington roster recorded more ice time then this superstar, a number that is shocking. If the Capitals hope to get past the stingy defense of the Rangers, they will need a breakout performance from Ovechkin. He recorded five points in the four regular season matchups with New York, so obviously the foundation is there for him to shine.
I’m a guy that loves good goaltending. In other words, I would never pick against a Vezina Trophy finalist, when he is matched up with a rookie goaltender. So, with that being said, expect this to be a long and exciting series that is eventually controlled by the defensive unit of New York.
Rangers advance, 4 games to 2