2011 NHL Playoffs Predictions: Who'll Win the Rangers-Capitals Series?
Yes it is just one game and many will say I am already back pedaling on my prediction, and while on the surface that might be true, I believed that if the Washington Capitals could win game one, they would win the series.
In past playoff seasons, it was never so much the fact that Washington lost in the playoffs as much as it was how they lost in the playoffs.
In past years it was the Caps that led by one goal midway through the third period, it was the Caps that allowed goals where the referee was a split second away from blowing the play dead and of course it was always the Capitals that lost in overtime during the playoffs.
I cannot remember any No.1 seeded team that had as many questions to answer as the Capitals did prior to game one.
How would the Capitals react if they got behind in the game, especially late? Which young netminder would get the start for Washington and how would he perform? How would Mike Green hold up after missing 20 games?
The Caps held up just fine after allowing the first goal of the game in the third period.
23-year-old Capitals rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth out-dueled the NHL's regular season shutout leader, Henrik Lundqvist and looked good and confident in the process.
Just as the entire defensive unit did, Mike Green played great and got stronger as the game went along.
The Caps two Alex's led the way on offense, and that is especially great news in the case of Alexander Semin. His two points in last night's game matched his total output from all seven games against Montreal in last year's opening round series.
Semin's overtime winner was his first goal in 15 playoff games and his two point night matched his entire seven game output in last year’s first round loss.
There were as many question marks next to Bruce Boudreau’s name headed into this post season as there were about his team. Many wondered if he and his staff learned anything in losing three game sevens on home ice in the last three years.
Apparently, Boudreau did learn from his past mistakes. His team out-hustled, out-hit, out-shot, out-played, and ultimately outscored the Rangers in game 1 on Wednesday night.
Boudreau out-coached former Stanley Cup winning head coach John Tortorella of the Rangers, and while New York fans may not agree, I point out the adjustments Boudreau made in the third period against the ones Tortorella did not make.
Boudreau managed his team’s ice time flawlessly. The Capitals were the fresher team in overtime. The Capitals registered more shots in overtime than they did in either the first, second or third periods.
Tortorella never scaled back the tiresome forecheck that wore his team down, and while he is moving the struggling Marian Gaborik on a line with Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen for game two, he made no adjustments on the fly in game one.
Boudreau also shuffled his top two lines just enough so that Semin saw time with his fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin. How did that work out for the Caps.?
It took just two shifts to produce the tying goal, as Ovie and Semin worked Lundqvist in the crease to force the marker.
Many of you might be saying that this is a whole lot of optimism from one game. My response is I remember Easter Eve in 1987, and Petr Nedved in 1996. I also remember the eight times we led a playoff series 2-0 or 3-1, only to lose it all in a game seven.
I also remember last year and so do Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Green, Knuble and Boudreau. While it is just one game, the Rangers are about to find out how big a victory they let slip out of their hands.
Aside from what has been mentioned, the Caps must continue to get good play from their second, third and fourth lines as well. Playoff series such as this one was designed for players like Matt Bradley and Marcus Johansson to shine.
Anyone remember John Druce?
Here are five adjustments Washington can make to win game two and eventually finish the Rangers off in five games.
Ride the Hot Hand of Michael Neuvirth
Michael Neuvirth was great at times in his NHL playoff debut. His quick-catching glove was there for him all evening long and was a big reason he allowed just one goal on 24 shots.
Neuvirth, who set the record for wins by a Capitals rookie in net with 27 this past season, had a lot of help as his defense was smothering the Rangers offense in front of him. They also blocked 32 shots in game 1.
He made several big saves including one on Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik at point blank range in the second period.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau played musical goalies at times this past season and it was not always because the other was hurt or playing bad. Several times this season both Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth did not return to start following a win.
Neuvirth's confidence is sky high right now and Boudreau must ride Neuvirth for as long as he can. He may see more shots in game 2 as it is unlikely that his defense will block 27 shots through three periods once again.
Do not kid yourselves Caps fans, Neuvirth took the challenge of going head-to-head with King Henrik Lundqvist personally. The Czech out-dueled the Swede and looked great in doing so.
Crash the Net and Continue to Shoot High
Washington must crash the net more and bother Henrik Lundqvist more than they did in game 1. The one real time the Capitals put pressure on Lundqvist they scored. Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin continued to pound at the puck until it squirted through for the tying goal.
Mike Knuble did not record a shot on goal and that stat must increase as Knuble frequently camps out in front of opposing goalies. The Capitals recorded just two official shots on goal from below the circles, not good for a goalie that plays so deep in his crease.
Lundqvist plays deep in his net. Washington must continue to fire the puck up high at Lundqvist. The Capitals must remain patient with their shooting. Washington hit the cross bar or goal post four times and missed several empty nets in the first two periods.
Lundqvist was not as sharp in game 1 as he could have been and without his red ironclad best friend standing behind and beside him, the Capitals could easily have scored three or four goals in the opening game.
Continue to Play Smart Against the Rangers Deep and Aggressive Forecheck
The Capitals were careful in game 1 against New York’s very aggressive fore-check. The Rangers chased Washington deep into their own zone and even behind their own net on many occasions. If the Blushirts continue with this game plan, the Caps must continue to be smart with the puck.
The Capitals were crisp with their passes from inside their own zone as they worked the puck through the neutral zone and into the Rangers end with ease at times.
The Rangers aggressive fore-check may have worked against them as the Capitals big bodies were more than willing to bang when necessary.
Creating scoring chances for the Capitals, the Rangers wore down late in the game and began to commit turnovers inside their own defensive zone . Eventually one of those turnovers by Marc Staal led to the game winning goal for the Caps.
I expect New York to scale down on the fore-check a tad and believe that the tempo they played was an effort to try to steal game 1 thinking the Caps may be back on their heels playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
Continue to Block Shots
Billy Jaffe of the NHL Network says that the teams that block shots and sacrifice their bodies in the playoffs move on to play again another day. The Capitals helped out their young net minder in game 1 by blocking more shots than he made saves.
Washington was ranked No.7 in the NHL this past season with 1257 blocked shots or 15.3 per game. Against the Rangers in game 1, the Capitals blocked 32 shots as 11 different Caps contributed.
Every Caps defenseman with the exception of John Erskine had at least two and Karl Alzner led the way with eight. Jeff Schultz had six followed by Mike Green and Scott Hannan who each had four.Rookie blue liner John Carlson chipped in with two.
Washington's forwards crashed the block party as well, Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble contributed with two blocks apiece.
Continuing to block shots will be crucial for Washington. It serves as a two-fold problem solver. It prevents their young goalie from seeing too many shots and giving up the dreaded soft goal that could alter his confidence.
Blocking shots will also frustrate New York's shooters like Marian Gaborik, who is slumping. Gaborik has not scored a goal in 10 games.
Power Play Must Contribute
The Capitals must use their power play to put points on the board. They must first shoot the puck with the extra man.
In game 1, the Capitals had just four shots on goal during two extra man advantages. They must generate better puck movement. The Capitals were standing around and did not look crisp with the extra man.
Boudreau's primary power play unit consisted of Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin at the point with Nicklas Backstrom , Marcus Johansson and either Mike Knuble or Brooks Laich.
The Caps PP was long in developing and the urgency needs to be better. The opportunities will increase as the series goes along. All playoff series become more physical in nature, so the Caps will get their shots to convert.
Washington must either set up the high slot play to Ovechkin or work Knuble or Laich down in front. Either way, Washington needs points from the PP unit. Another 1-for-33 showing in this years first round and it could mean a Rangers five game victory.
Bonus Slide: Better Shot Selection and Accuracy
I thought the Capitals played well on offense. They need a little better accuracy on their shots but nerves played a big part in the first game of the playoffs.
The capitals had 19 shots miss the net. With a game 1 win the Caps may be able to settle down and convert those missed chances. They must get better with their shot selection.
During game 1 and according to the shot chart the Capitals had 11 shots from high percentage shooting areas but just four shots were from 15 feet or less.
The Caps had just five shots between the circles, 11 shots from inside the circles, eight shots from the blue line, four from the high slot, three more from a bad area between the circles and the boards and just two shots below the circles.
I am all for taking what the defense gives you but I think the Caps can do a little better than this going forward.