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NHL Playoffs 2012: Why the Washington Capitals Will Eliminate the Rangers

Eric McKelvieSenior Writer IMay 5, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 05: Mike Green #52 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with Alex Ovechkin #8 and Dennis Wideman #6 after scoring the game winning goal in the third period against the New York Rangers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on May 5, 2012 in Washington City. Washington won the game 3-2. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals evened their series with the New York Rangers with a Game 4 victory at home.

The game was tied 2-2 late in the third when Mike Green scored on the power play to give the Capitals the edge.

After a tough triple-overtime loss in Game 3, many thought the Capitals' season was over. They responded by coming out flying in the first period of Game 4, out-shooting the Rangers 14-3 and taking a one-goal lead.

Although they made a few mistakes, including one that cost them a goal on a waved-off icing, the Capitals outplayed the Rangers for the most part.

As the series shifts back to Madison Square Garden in New York for Game 5, the pressure is on the Rangers to avoid going down 3-2 in a series for the second time in the playoffs.

The Capitals have been able to play stride-for-stride with the Rangers for the better part of four games. Their depth, goaltending, smart defensive play and a dynamic group of forwards will give the Capitals the edge needed to win the series.

Goaltending

Braden Holtby came into the playoffs as a third-string goaltender with only 21 games of NHL experience in the regular season. He’s not likely to be a third string goaltender next year. Holtby may not be as talented as Henrik Lundqvist, but his playoff numbers show he can compete with King Henrik.

Holtby is 6-5 in the playoffs, has a 1.94 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. Lundqvist is just slightly better with a 6-5 record, a 1.68 goal-against average and a .940 save percentage.

With numbers similar to a Vezina and Hart Trophy nominee, there is no reason Holtby can’t lead the Capitals to a series win against the Rangers.

Defense

The Capitals defense is adapting to the Rangers' style of play at both ends of the rink. In their own zone, they collapse in on their goal in order to eliminate chances down low. In the offensive zone, the Capitals defensemen play as wide as possible on the blue line when they have the puck. This helps to limit the Rangers' ability to block shots.

Unlike the Rangers, the Capitals coaching staff appears to be willing to roll each of its defensive pairs in almost any situation. The Capitals’ depth on defense could be the difference in a long series.

In Game 3, which went to triple overtime, the Rangers' Ryan McDonagh logged over 53 minutes in ice time, Marc Staal played 49 minutes, Dan Girardi 44 minutes and Michael Del Zotto played over 43 minutes. The most ice time a Capitals defenseman played was just over 40 minutes, logged by Dennis Wideman.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals attempts a shot on goal against the New York Rangers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 30, 2012
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Forward

The Capitals’ offensive talent has been well-documented over the years. Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom all have the speed and skill to light the lamp at any moment in a game. However, the Capitals have proven during these playoffs that they can play solid two-way hockey as well.

Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle and Troy Brouwer have logged heavy minutes throughout the playoffs and have effectively shut down many talented NHL forwards. The Capitals’ mix of scoring lines and checking lines means they’re never out of a game.

Finally, there is one Washington Capitals playoff stat which may surprise some fans. In the six games Ovechkin has played under 20 minutes, the Capitals are 5-1. In the five games he’s played over 20 minutes, they're 1-4.

Expect Ovechkin to continue to play less and the Capitals to continue to win more, as the 2012 NHL playoffs continue.

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