NHL Playoff Brackets: Breaking Down the Rangers vs. Capitals Series

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistApril 27, 2012

NHL Playoff Brackets: Breaking Down the Rangers vs. Capitals Series

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    The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals each needed seven games to dispatch their first-round playoff opponents. They'll barely have a moment to take a breath—Round 2 starts on Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

    These two teams know each other well, but the scenario was quite different last year, when the top-seed Capitals knocked out the eighth-place Rangers 4-1 in a first-round matchup.

    This time, it's the Rangers who are the top seed and the Caps who barely squeaked into the postseason. New York has home-ice advantage but beyond that, it's a level playing field.

    Here's a breakdown of how this series will shape up.

Regular Season Series

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    Washington and New York met four times this season:

    Apr 7/12   Wash 4 @ NYR 1

    Feb 12/12 Wash 2 @ NYR 3

    Dec 28/11  NYR 1 @ Wash 4

    Nov 25/11 NYR 6 @ Wash 3

    Even Steven. Each team went 2-2, winning one game at home and one on the road.

    Scoring slightly favours the Caps, 13-11.

    Henrik Lundvist went 2-1 for the Rangers, allowing nine goals with a save percentage of .859.
    Martin Biron went 0-1, allowing four goals with a save percentage of .826.

    Michael Neuvirth went 0-2 for the Caps, allowing nine goals with a save percentage of .852.
    Tomas Vokoun went 1-0, allowing 1 goal with a save percentage of .969.
    Braden Holtby went 1-0, allowing 1 goal with a save percentage of .972.

    Washington's leading scorer was John Carlson, with 3-3-6.

    New York's leading scorer was Ryan Callahan, with 1-4-5.

Playoffs so Far

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    The No. 1 seed Rangers took seven games to dispatch the No. 8 Ottawa Senators on home ice. They fell behind in games 3-2 before rallying to win the series. Although they triumphed in the end, it was expected they'd have an easier time against the Sens.

    The No. 7 seed Capitals took seven games to dispatch the No. 2 seed (and defending Stanley Cup Champion) Boston Bruins in overtime on the road. They were ahead 3-2 in the series before letting the Bruins tie it, then rallying to win the series. After a rocky regular season, playoff expectations for the Caps were generally pretty low, so a first-round win is already a huge victory.

    Both teams were mid-pack on the power-play in the first round, but Washington ranked second with a 91.3 percent penalty kill, while the Rangers were seventh at 84.6 percent. This may prove to be an advantage for the Capitals going forward.

    Expectations can weigh heavy in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Round 1 has been unkind to both the Caps and Rangers in the past, so while they 'haven't won anything yet,' both teams must have a sense of relief that this year, they'll be playing hockey in May.

Playoff History

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    The Rangers and Capitals have met six times in the postseason:

    2010-11  Wash beat NYR 4-1 in Round 1

    2008-09  Wash beat NYR 4-3 in Round 1

    1993-94  NYR beat Wash 4-1 in Round 2    NYR went on to win Stanley Cup

    1990-91  Wash beat NYR 4-2 in Round 1

    1989-90  Wash beat NYR 4-1 in Round 2

    1985-86  NYR beat Wash 4-2 in Round 2

    Recent history definitely favours the Caps, but Washington was also the higher seed in the last two matchups, and had home-ice advantage. The last time the Rangers won the Eastern Conference, in 93-94, they rolled past Washington their way to defeating New Jersey and Vancouver for the Stanley Cup.

Current Conditions

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    The New York Rangers relied on their poise and maturity to earn the two wins they needed when facing elimination and advance to Round 2. Vezina nominee Henrik Lundqvist has continued to dazzle between the pipes, and rookie Chris Kreider has emerged as a force in the five games he's played.

    Offensive production from the forwards could be a concern. Brad Richards leads the team with five points, but Marian Gaborik needs to be better—he has just three points so far. Brian Boyle is the only injured Ranger, out with a concussion after his collision with Chris Neil in Game 5.

    The Washington Capitals are on a huge high after ousting the defending Cup champs in overtime in Boston on Wednesday, but their road has been a bit rockier to this point.

    Alex Ovechkin is leading the team with five points but has admitted that he dislikes his diminished ice time, so there is some tension to consider between the star and coach Dale Hunter. At forward, Hunter has tinkered with using both Mathieu Perreault and Mike Knuble, who made the key play in front of Tim Thomas on Joel Ward's Game 7 overtime winner.

    The coach has also been dissatisfied with his third defensive pairing, shuffling Jeff Schultz and John Erskine in and out of the lineup in Round 1. Schultz got the call to play with Dennis Wideman in Game 7.

    The bright spot for the Caps has been the stellar play of rookie Braden Holtby in goal. At the end of Round 1, Holtby is sitting on a .940 save percentage, virtually even with Lundqvist's .945. If Holtby can continue to shine, Washington should be able to match up in net against the Rangers in Round 2.

    Washington is also healthy, with no key injuries at this time.

The Verdict

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    Flip a coin.

    The way these playoffs have gone so far, predictions are a dangerous business.

    It's tempting to say the Rangers should win based on their regular-season supremacy and home-ice advantage. But it could be easy to pick Washington based on the recent playoff matchups.

    The only thing the numbers really show is that this should be a tight series. These two teams have some history and they seem to be well matched.

    In the end, I'll take Washington. I think the hot young goalie, the determination of Ovechkin, the lower expectations, and the high of beating the Bruins will be enough to carry them through.

    One weird play or crazy bounce along the way could change everything, but put me down for Caps in six.