In what is sure to be an intense rematch of their postseason series two years ago, the eighth seed New York Rangers will take on the top seed Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Capitals clinched the number one spot with a 5-2 win over Florida last Wednesday, while the Rangers fought their way into the last playoff spot on the final day of the season with a 5-2 win of their own over the New Jersey Devils.
The emotions will still be there from the series two years ago, in which the Rangers blew a 3-1 series lead and Head Coach John Tortorella was suspended for a game due to an altercation with a fan.
With Sidney Crosby still injured, Alexander Ovechkin has taken over as the face of the league; a series pitting him against one of the biggest hockey cities in the world is a marketing dream come true for Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL.
So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the two teams who will face off in this intriguing playoff matchup.
New York Rangers
The Philadelphia Flyers' performance last year showed you can never count out a bottom seed. Rangers' fans will not soon forget losing the last playoff spot on the final day of the season to the Flyers, who then proceeded to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Rangers will be riding an emotional high heading into this series after making the playoffs on the last game of the season in what seemed like the hockey god’s way of bringing justice to the Rangers after last year’s heartbreak.
The Rangers are characterized by a grinding style of play, and are not afraid to get physical and block shots. They are first in the NHL in hits and fourth in blocked shots, largely in thanks to Daniel Girardi’s league-leading 235 blocks.
Captain Chris Drury made his return to the lineup against the Devils on Saturday, and should be available for the playoffs despite lingering knee problems. Vinny Prospal added a goal and an assist against New Jersey and is one of the hottest Rangers heading into the series with Washington with four goals in his last five games.
The Rangers went 11-4-1 over their last 15 regular season games, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist played in every one. Lundqvist will not be very well-rested, having started the past 26 games heading into the postseason.
The Rangers will be without alternate captain and shot-blocking extraordinaire Ryan Callahan for at least the first round. Expect the Blueshirts to rely heavily on leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky and right wing Marian Gaborik, who has underperformed all season and will be making his first playoff appearance as a New York Ranger.
Who will win this series?
The Caps are an admittedly streaky team, as evidenced by their eight-game losing streak in early December, which they immediately followed up by getting at least one point in each of their next nine games.
However, the Capitals will be looking to shed their image as a team that can’t perform in big series, especially after losing in the first round to eighth seeded Montreal last season.
All-Star defenseman Mike Green hasn’t played since February 25th, but he is expected to return for game 1 against the Rangers.
In a strictly precautionary manner, the Capitals also sat leading scorer Alex Ovechkin for a three game stretch in late March, but he returned to score three goals and add five assists in his last five games, while fellow Russian Alexander Semin has six points in his last five games.
Despite the knocks against the Caps for their lackluster postseason performances, Ovechkin has put up great numbers, including 40 points in 28 careers playoff games. Every playoff series Ovechkin and Washington have been a part of since the lockout has gone to seven games.
The Caps will be going with one of their two young goaltenders in net. 22-year-old Russian Semyon Varlamov is the only one with playoff experience out of the two, but 23-year-old Czech Michal Neuvirth has certainly made a case for himself this season.
The NHL will release the official NHL playoff schedule later tonight.