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(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Rangers – Preview

It just had to be the Rangers, didn’t it?  As if both teams had not had enough of each other over the past five playoffs.  It honestly does not feel like there are any story lines left to see play out.  We’ve seen rookie goalies stand on their heads (Varlamov and Holtby).  We’ve seen a team completely collapse in practically no time (Joel Ward double minor).  We’ve even had to answer the question of which team had the loudest fans.  Is there anything we haven’t seen?  I guess we’ll find out starting Thursday.  ON TO THE BREAKDOWN!

Season Series:

February 17, 2013: NYR 2 WSH 1
March 10, 2013: NYR 4 WSH 1
March 24, 2013: WSH 3 NYR 2 (SO)

The Rangers were clearly the better team for much of the regular season series.  Given the standings at the time of each game, that would make the most sense.  The Capitals entered all three match-ups looking up at the Rangers in the standings.  Aside from the rosters, there is very little similar about the team the Rangers faced in the regular season and the team they will suit up against this Thursday.   I usually put a good deal of weight into the season series, but it just doesn’t hold true here.

The Offensive Leaders:

WASHINGTON: ALEXANDER OVECHKIN (RW): 32 goals - 24 assists - 56 points

NEW YORK: RICK NASH (LW): 21 goals - 21 assists - 42 points

Both of these high-scoring wingers found themselves in new places to start the season.  Rick Nash finally was able to escape Columbus for the Big Apple.  Alexander Ovechkin, meanwhile, found himself moving from left to right wing and was seemingly baffled.  Nash seemed much less inhibited by his new place out of the season.  His transition was successful enough for Tortorella to finally jettison his headache, known as Marian Gaborik, to Columbus at the deadline.  Ovechkin has finally found his old form, and is scoring at will.  Ovechkin has not gone consecutive games without scoring since early March.  It also must be noted Nash has only ever played 4 playoff games in his career, and they were back in the 2008 playoffs.  Ovechkin will be suiting up for his 52nd playoff game on Thursday. 

The Net-Minders:

WASHINGTON: BRADEN HOLTBY: 23-12-1/ 4 SO/ .920/ 2.58 GAA

NEW YORK: HENRIK LUNDQVIST: 24-16-3/ 2 SO/ .926/ 2.05 GAA

Over the 4 playoff clashes the past 5 years between these teams, Henrik Lundqvist has started every single game.  Braden Holtby, meanwhile, is set to be the first Capitals goaltender to play in more than one series against the Rangers.  With Lundqvist, there are no surprises.  He’s going to practically never leave the crease and the Caps know they will need to shoot high on him.  Holtby gives me just a little more concern.  He, as well as the rest of the team, is at his best when he is playing the puck.  The Rangers are going to be dumping and chasing quite a bit so a mobile Holtby should wreak havoc on their offense.  However, if there’s one team I worry about catching Holtby out of his crease, it’s the Rangers.  I also have to admit Holtby’s play of late has concerned me.  He has let in some bad goals on shots off the rush. These two were absolutely amazing to watch last spring, and I would expect to see no different this time around.

The Blue Line:

WASHINGTON: Combined 26 goals/ 51 assists/ 77 points from the projected starters

NEW YORK: Combined +45 from the projected starters

As is the case in general for these two teams, we have two different stories on the blue line.  The Capitals D is going to join the rush a bit more and isn’t afraid to pinch down, even if it costs them some odd-man breaks.  The Rangers have a much more traditional blue line.  They aren’t opposed to joining the occasional rush, but are much more conservative when it comes to taking chances.  I can only imagine they will be even more conservative against a team that will kill you on odd-man rushes like the Capitals can.  It is actually quite surprising though that the Capitals are actually a better shot blocking team, though neither are afraid to get in front of the puck.  A big question will be asked of the playoff rookies for each team, John Moore (NYR) and Steve Oleksy (WAS).  They can both expect to be pressured quite a bit more until they prove they can take the heat.

The Wild Cards:

WASHINGTON: MIKE RIBEIRO

Mike Ribeiro, as I've noted earlier, has been phenomenal for the Capitals this season.  He has been everything the Capitals could have hoped for in their second line center.  Currently playing alongside Brouwer and Erat, he should be able to rack up some points during the series…provided he can stay on the ice.  As consistently good as Ribeiro’s play has been, his mouth/control has been consistently bad.  He is not one to shy away from letting the refs know if they missed something, and has the misconducts to prove it.  And if an opposing player takes a cheap shot at him that goes unnoticed, he’s going to pay them back with a nice two-hander .  The problem is that everybody has known this for years.  Referees are getting tired of his whining and opposing players know how to get into his head.  And the Rangers are one of the best teams at getting under players’ skin.  We saw first-hand the problems his anger can cause in the Ottawa game last Thursday.  The Caps WILL NOT win if he can’t control himself.

NEW YORK: SEAN AVERY    JOHN TORTORELLA

Love him or hate him, John Tortorella is a great coach.  He took Tampa Bay to four straight playoffs (oh, and a Stanley Cup) and has taken New York to the playoffs four of the past five seasons.  But, like Mike Ribeiro, he has some control issues.  Most Caps will easily recall the incident in the 2009 playoffs where a fracas with the fans behind him cost him a game in the press box.  And it isn’t just his in-game temper that can cost him.  He is not afraid to speak his mind in the post-game.  Everybody might not believe it, but bulletin board material can go a long way in a 7-game series.

The Wounded:

WASHINGTON: JOEL WARD: Lower Body Injury

Joel Ward has missed 9 games since blocking a Sami Salo slap shot on April 7th.  Per the Post’s Katie Carrera, Ward has been cleared for contact and could start on Thursday.  While Ward might not be the most important piece of the puzzle for the Caps, his gritty, crash-the-net style is exactly what the Caps will need in this series.  While Volpatti has held his own, Ward is a clear upgrade.  Plus, I bet he would like some redemption after basically costing the Caps the series last season.

NEW YORK: MARC STAAL: Eye injury

We’ve all seen the gruesome footage from early March when Marc Staal took a slapshot square to the eye.  It prompted argument after argument over whether or not visors should be mandatory.  That’s all secondary, as the Rangers would love to have Staal back for this series.  Ever since Tortorella came into office, Staal has been routinely given the task of neutralizing the opposing stars (i.e. Alexander Ovechkin) and he has been quite effective at it.  He’s also one of the better offensive blueliners the Rangers have.  While he will probably not be ready for game one, he has not ruled out a return at some point in the series.

Prediction:

I’ve said it time and time again this season that the Capitals are not a contending team.  They were subpar for over half of the season and have been terrible on the penalty kill.  But then again, it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish.  And right now, the Caps are the hottest team in the league.  As long as the long layoff doesn’t cool them off, I don’t think they will miss a step.  It will be close but I’m taking WASHINGTON CAPITALS IN 6 GAMES.

(I invite all fans to share their favorite memory from the Rangers/Capitals series from the past few years.)

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About F Street Faithful

Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate.  This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals.  The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.

In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at  York College of Pennsylvania.  I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland. 

You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at overtheboard@gmail.com.