After a while, it starts to hurt.
In 2009, it was Sergei Federov who fired a wrist shot past Henrik Lundqvist in Game 7 to send the Rangers—up 3-1 at one point in the series—home from the spring. Washington would go on to lose in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Last year, the Blueshirts drew the Capitals once again in the first round and suffered the same fate—this time around it took only five games. The most painful memory for the Rangers in that series was the crushing Game 4 defeat—up 3-0 going into the third period only to lose in overtime and then losing the next game to be eliminated from the playoffs.
You don't think there's some sting left over from those playoff wounds?
It's been a banner season for New York. With a victory tonight over the same Washington Capitals, they would clinch the President's trophy—awarded to the team for the most points in a season—and, in a twist of fate, would most likely draw the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs.
If you're the Rangers, you couldn't draw up a better scenario.
Sure, a floundering Florida Panther team may be a more "ideal" first-round playoff matchup, as the team has gone 12 years since their last playoff berth. Ottawa, the other possible matchup, has given the Blueshirts fits all season with their team speed. Their rookie head coach Paul MacLean has turned the Senators around very quickly, and they will be a hungry team in the second season.
Enter the Washington Capitals.
The team is without both of their starting goaltenders due to injuries. Currently, 22-year-old Braden Holtby is holding down the fort in D.C while Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun are tending to their respective lower-body injuries. Not the ideal situation for a hockey team looking to do some damage in the playoffs.
While Alexander Ovechkin has regained some of his form—nine goals in his last 10 games—and Alex Semin remains a playoff threat, the Capitals have been a largely inconsistent team all season, with their effort and heart coming into question numerous times.
After tonight,we will know for sure which teams will be facing each other in the opening round of the playoffs. If you're the New York Rangers, drawing the Washington Capitals will give you a chance to exorcise the team's recent playoff demons.