Thursday night’s faceoff at the Verizon Center between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals will commence the 42nd all-time playoff game and the eighth series between these two franchises. The Rangers and Capitals previously crossed paths on this stage in 1986, '90, '91, '94, 2009, '11 and '12.
This matchup will tie five others, including Rangers-Islanders and Capitals-Penguins, for the 15th most common card in NHL playoff history. The 39-year-old Washington franchise will now have faced the Rangers and Penguins more often than any other adversary in the Stanley Cup tournament.
Going into the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, this matchup’s fourth installment in the last five seasons, the Caps hold the all-time edge with four series wins and a 22-20 game advantage.
Washington also holds a slim 5-4 advantage when facing the Rangers in overtime in the postseason.
Each side has triumphed once in a Game 7.
Before the Blueshirts look to pull even on the historical scorecard and follow up on last year’s seven-game conquest of the Caps, here is a look back at the six most memorable moments in this matchup.
We will start with the three highlights that favored the Rangers.
Unless otherwise indicated all statistics were found via hockey-reference.com
The Rangers claimed the first game of the Patrick Division Finals with a 4-3 overtime triumph before spilling the series lead with 8-1 and 6-3 losses in Games 2 and 3.
In a pseudo-must-win scenario in Game 4, New York was twice confronted with two-goal deficits, trailing 3-1 and later 5-3. But Brian MacLellan drew a 5-5 knot within the final three minutes of regulation before Bob Brooke gave the Blueshirts another sudden-death strike within the first three minutes of the bonus round.
The 6-5 home win effectively turned the tide in the series, which New York took in six games with subsequent 4-2 and 2-1 victories.
There was no shortage of suspense when the Rangers and Capitals met a year ago. They forged a pattern of alternating victors with six straight one-goal decisions.
That series included a triple-overtime marathon in Game 3 and a tight, 2-1 Game 7 reminiscent of 2009 (more on that later).
But if we are to single out one game in this series, it is impossible to top Game 5. The game was characterized by multiple lead changes, close shaves that averted near-strangleholds and a momentum-swaying equalizer with 6.6 seconds to spare in regulation.
The host Rangers and visiting Capitals traded goals through the first two periods before John Carlson gave Washington its first lead on a power play at 4:20 of the closing frame.Less than three minutes later, teammate Nicklas Backstrom nearly augmented the lead to 3-1, which was practically insurmountable in this matchup.
But Backstrom hit the post on a backhanded flipper.
Backstrom’s near-miss, followed by Joel Ward’s untimely high-sticking penalty, gave the Blueshirts a spare breath. With it, Brad Richards drew a 2-2 knot on the cusp of the buzzer, setting up another special-teams strike by Marc Staal to stamp a 3-2 overtime win and an identical lead in the series.
Eventual Conn Smythe winner Brian Leetch had a hand in all four Rangers goals, including a playmaker hat trick. New York goaltender Mike Richter shook off an early 1-1 equalizer launched by Kevin Hatcher from behind the Washington blue line.
When Richter and his skating mates warded off the Capitals’ last-minute swarm, they cemented a 4-3 Game 5 victory and a 4-1 triumph in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was their first slurp of second-round success since knocking off this same Washington franchise eight years prior.
The series win also marked the halfway point of New York's drive towards ending a 54-year championship drought.
And now for the top three playoff games in this matchup that have gone Washington’s way…
With a 2-2 deadlock in the Patrick Division Finals waiting to be broken at Madison Square Garden, half of the Capitals' and Rangers' skaters penned their names to the scoresheet during a 5-5 draw through regulation.
It took a mere six minutes and 44 seconds of extra action for the visiting Caps to cultivate their sixth goal, sending them back home with a chance to eliminate the Blueshirts for the second consecutive season.
Washington would do that two nights later with a 4-2 victory.
Between the 1989-90 regular season, a portion of the subsequent playoffs and the final two months of the previous campaign, Capitals captain Rod Langway was nursing a 90-game goal drought. He went into Game 4 of the Patrick Division Finals having previously tuned the opposing mesh on during a visit to Edmonton on Feb. 17, 1989.
As it happened, the ensuing 432-day wait was worth it for the Washington faithful. In the first minute of overtime, the future Hall of Fame blueliner beat Blueshirts backstop Mike Richter for a 4-3 triumph and 3-1 upper hand in the series.
Two nights later, another OT victory sent the Caps to the third round for the first time in the franchise’s then-16-year history.
This game was made possible by the Capitals’ aggregate 9-3 romp over in back-to-back elimination contests after they initially trailed the upset-minded Rangers, 3-1, in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The rubber match saw Nik Antropov spot the Blueshirts the initial upper hand with 5:35 gone in the first period. That 1-0 lead would fail to last 10 minutes by literally one second as Alexander Semin inserted the equalizer at the 15:34 mark.
A defensive arm-wrestling bout ensued with the clubs ultimately combining for 39 shots on goal.
The Rangers mustered merely 24 tests on Henrik Lundqvist. But Washington averted overtime when veteran Sergei Fedorov beat Lundqvist on a high-flying wrister from the far faceoff dot with 4:59 to spare in the third period.
When the 2-1 difference turned to stone at the buzzer, Washington had won its first playoff round since its run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998.