Nov. 8 at DC: WAS 3-NYR 1 Brent Johnson made 28 saves and Brooks Laich, Tom Poti and Alexander Semin tallied for the Caps.
Dec. 23 at NYR: WAS 5-NYR 4 (OT) Shaone Morrisonn scored 59 seconds into overtime to cap the thrilling comeback. Caps were down 4-0 midway in the second period. Alex Ovechkin had two goals in the comeback.
Jan. 3 at DC: WAS 2-NYR 1 Jose Theodore made 21 saves, while Mike Green and Ovechkin took care of the goals. There was a bunch of rough stuff in this one as well, including Semin's "bongo playing" on Marc Staal.
Feb. 11 at NYR: NYR 5-WAS 4 (SO) Charging, slashing, fighting, diving; this game had it all. Green tied the game at 19:02, but Theo was beaten by Ryan Callahan in the shootout.
WAS: 50-24-8-108, second in East, first in Southeast.
Third in goals scored; 11th in goals against; second in power play; 17th in penalty kill; second in shots for.
NYR: 43-30-9-95, seventh in East, fourth in Atlantic.
T-25th in goals scored; third in goals against; 29th in power play; first in penalty kill; seventh in shots for.
FIVE KEYS TO FIRST ROUND SERIES
1) Caps Power Play v. Rangers Penalty Kill
The Capitals were second in the NHL in power play proficiency at 25.2 % in the regular season. It's where Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green are most dangerous—the pair were second and third in the league in power play goals, while Nicklas Backstrom was eighth. All are naturally gifted offensive players, and with the empty space are especially difficult to contain.
The Rangers, meanwhile, were first overall in penalty kills at 87.8%, and in the bottom half of the league in penalties taken. When the referees swallow their whistles in the playoffs, each power play will be of vital importance, and the Rangers do a good job of limiting the silly penalties to begin with.
Recently, Brooks Laich has taken it upon himself to play the role of net crasher, and creating traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist in this series is essential.
2) Solving King Henrik
Lundqvist this season was just 11th in the league in goals against, at 2.43, and his save percentage 12th at .916. These marks are just a tick below his NHL career numbers, but don't let the small dip in stats fool you; this cat can control a playoff series.
He has excelled in every league or tournament he's played in, including leading Sweden to the Olympic gold medal in the 2006 games. He makes shooters beat him upstairs as he concentrates on taking away the bottom part of the net, so Washington has to concentrate on putting lots of shot on goal, shooting upstairs and creating traffic to beat The King.
Oh, and Lundqvist enters the game hot, going 3-1-0, 1.51, .949 in his last four games played.
3) Caps Getting Defensive?
All season the Caps' blue-liners have run hot-and-cold, trending toward the cold.
While Green may win a Norris trophy, he'll do so on the strength of his goal-scoring ability. Tom Poti has struggled with injury, Brian Pothier is just getting his legs after returning from post-concussion syndrome, Shaone Morrisonn has a bent for taking bad penalties at the worst time, Schultz is still trying to grow into the role, and Milan Jurcina and John Erskine are what they are: sixth of seventh defensemen forced to play spots over their heads at times.
But here's the thing in this series: New York can't score. They finished tied for 25th in goals this season with Tampa Bay, further testament to their defensive capabilities. Their best overall player, Chris Drury, enters the series banged up. They didn't have a 30-goal scorer. And their best goal scorer, Nik Antropov, has been known to disappear for weeks at a time.
If there was one first round opponent the Caps defense could (should) gain confident playing against, they got it.
4) Jo-saaaay, Jo-say, Jo-say, Jo-say!
It's as simple as this: If good Jose Theodore shows up, this series should be no contest. If bad Jose Theodore shows, all bets are off.
Theodore won 32 games this year, but his quality numbers (2.87, .900) are the worst of any goalie in the playoffs. He finished at the bottom of every statistic for starting goalies. He's had stretches where hes played very well, but games where he's looked truly awful, and he's one of the the worst stick-handlers in the history of goaltending.
Basically, it's a crapshoot.
He is proud to say that he's never lost a first round playoff series, so Caps fans hope that stands. Because the alternatives are a talented but green rookie that has never played in the playoffs or a guy that hasn't seen a shot fired in anger since before Valentine's Day.
5) The Wildcards: Ovechkin and Avery
Ovechkin has been biding his time the last few weeks as the regular season ground to the finish. He's been chomping at the bit for the Stanley Cup playoffs, for his chance to bask in the limelight that comes with this great tournament.
Coupled with the first round matchup against the favorite team in the country's biggest television market, and this series was tailor-made for the games biggest personality.
On the other hand, Sean Avery is the thorn in everyone's sides, and he would like nothing better than to exact his revenge on Gary Bettman and the entire NHL and upstage the game's biggest diva.
How will Avery react if Ovechkin celebrates a little too vigorously? Will Avery reprise his stick-in-the-face routine on Theodore even though it's been outlawed? Can anyone on the Caps, other than Ovechkin, match Avery's determination and passion?
This article originally appeared at Capitals News Network.