Before advancing to the second round after defeating the Ottawa Senators, the New York Rangers' past postseason hopes were snuffed out in two consecutive playoff series involving the Washington Capitals. During this go-around, the Rangers will look to exact revenge.
There seems to be a theme to each series between these two teams, and the Rangers will look for this third time to be a charm. In 2009, Semyon Varlamov got hot and stopped the Rangers. In 2011, Michal Neuvirth followed suit and this time around, Braden Holtby will attempt to do the same.
The Rangers know what they are getting themselves into and they know they can beat the Capitals. The roles are now reversed, as the Capitals are no longer the top seed or Eastern Conference powerhouse they were in the two previous postseason encounters.
This is not to say that the Capitals are not a dangerous team because in all actuality, they are very, very dangerous. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are two of the NHL's most dynamic players and Alex Semin is a Ranger killer.
The major difference for the Rangers this go around is that this is a second round matchup and the Rangers are deeper, more talented and more prepared to face the Capitals than they were in the previous two meetings.
The Rangers have players like Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider who can counteract the Capitals' offensive surge. The Rangers will need their stars to step up and that could be a big difference-maker.
The Rangers defense has been solid all year, and both Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have done a great job of shutting Ovechkin down all year. If Ovechkin is a non-factor in this series, the Rangers will eliminate the Capitals quickly.
The be all end all for this series will be Henrik Lundqvist. He finally has the monkey off his back and is playing like a man possessed.
The biggest thing heading into the playoffs for Lundqvist was getting past the initial round. He wanted to silence his critics, and he did that with a stellar performance against a tough Ottawa Senators squad. If Lundqvist can at least replicate his performance from the first round, the Rangers will be in great shape.
From the NY Daily News,
“You try not to think about the past, but it’s hard,” Henrik Lundqvist said Friday. “They knocked us out two years. We really want to beat this team.”
The major difference between the series against the Senators and the upcoming series against the Capitals will be speed. The Capitals are a slower team than the Senators and the Rangers will look to have Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider and Marian Gaborik capitalize on that just like Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins did in the first round.
The Rangers had trouble breaking through the neutral zone because of the Senators' overall speed. The Capitals don't have a speedy defenseman with the offensive caliber of Erik Karlsson who can transition between offense and defense.
With this style of play out of the equation, the Rangers should be able to generate more offense. That will make it much easier for New York overall. This series will be tough and the Rangers will need to continue to play at an elevated level in order to be effective against the Capitals.
With the puck drop for Game 1 coming up shortly, here is the projected lineup.
New York Rangers
Carl Hagelin | Brad Richards (A) | Marian Gaborík
Chris Kreider | Derek Stepan | Ryan Callahan (C)
Brandon Dubinsky | Artem Anisimov | Brandon Prust
Ruslan Fedotenko | John Mitchell | Mike Rupp
Ryan McDonagh | Dan Girardi
Marc Staal (A) | Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto | Stu Bickel
Alex Ovechkin (C) | Brooks Laich (A) | Troy Brouwer (A)
Jason Chimera | Nicklas Backstrom (A) | Alex Semin
Matt Hendricks | Jay Beagle | Marcus Johansson
Keith Aucoin | Mathieu Perreault | Joel Ward
Karl Alzner | John Carlson
Roman Hamrlík | Mike Green
Jeff Schultz | Dennis Wideman
This has the makings of another classic series. The roles are reversed, as the Rangers have improved and they are the favorite to win. After weighing all the variables, the Rangers will win this series in six games and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.