Lesson: The Caps must be close on the scoreboard through two periods...
Playoffs Roundtable: Caps vs. Rangers
Troy Brouwer started the year doing Gangman Style, ended the regular season second on the team in goals. (Alena Schwarz)
The Caps Outsider crew got together and wrote opinions on what they think will happen in the Caps-Rangers series.
So it’s the Rangers again. “Can You Hear Us?” vs. “We Are Louder”. John Druce and John Ogrodnick. Torts spraying that guy with a water bottle. Brad Richards and Sergei Fedorov scoring goals that will be remembered by their respective fan bases forever. NBC attempting to turn Ryan Callahan into Mike Richards 2.0. Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby in an epic battle of handsome goalies.
New York doesn’t have a lot of flashy offensive stats (and they don’t have Marian Gaborik any more), but they do generally win their games when leading after one (.929, second in the league) and haven’t lost when leading after two. Sounds to me like the Caps can’t afford to get behind, and must get the jump on the Rangers early. The Caps PP has to keep clicking like it has for most of the season, and I think they’re really improved over the last two series against the Rangers because they actually have *two* scoring lines, which hasn’t been the case in the past. We’re going to see a metric crapton of blocked shots, because that’s what the Rangers do. The Caps’ defensemen have to find a way to get their shots through to the net.
I think the Caps take this one, because I think that New York just can’t score enough. And because every single series this team plays seems to go seven games, I will pick them in seven.
Caps in 7
As we’ve seen in the playoffs in the past, the game is different. Teams tighten up. More shots get blocked. Shots that would ordinarily be goals suddenly aren’t. Being determined and energized isn’t enough – you’ve got to sacrifice your child just to score a goal, let alone get a win. Watching the Rangers score in the closing seconds on the power play last season (you know which game I’m talking about) was not about skill, or about moving their feet, but a determination so strong that there was no way the puck wouldn’t find the net. It was the same determination that let Mike Knuble and Joel Ward (yes, both should get credit) score the winner against Boston. That’s what this series is about, not which power play is working better, or whether Ovi had 32 or 102 goals this past season. It’s about willpower, and the Caps are ready.
Caps in 4
So, it’s postseason time which means a Capitals vs Rangers series is in order. Did anyone NOT see this coming? Right, I didn’t think so.
Let’s try to block out last year’s performance and focus on the now. The Capitals have the home-ice advantage this time around, ending up with the 3rd seed after winning the Southeast Division. They will rely heavily on goaltending by Holtby, who won’t repeat last season’s heroics but will be called upon to help drive the team to a series victory. Alex Ovechkin seems to be his old self again and even won the Rocket Richard Trophy this season. The Rangers will be led by reigning Vezina Trophy winner Lundqvist, who had another solid season between the pipes (2.05 GAA, .926 SV%) and won the most games out of any goaltender this season. A big question mark for him will be his stamina — he played in 43 out of the 48 games the Rangers played this year while Holtby has played in 36. Another one is the health of the Rangers, as Marc Staal is currently on injured reserve along with Michael Sauer and Derek Dorsett. Brian Boyle and Ryane Clowe also missed the Blueshirts finale against the Devils and may not be ready in time for the beginning of the series. If that is the case, that will give a huge advantage to Washington.
I was 0-2 last year in predicting series winners, but I will go Capitals in six. If the Capitals lose, please send your hate mail and tweets in my direction.
Caps in 6
Since the hockey gods apparently lack creativity, the Capitals are locked into playing the Rangers (yes, again – but this time in the first round). Despite last season’s early exit being handed to the Washington by the New York, in a teasingly close seven game series, the Capitals aren’t the same team they were last year. Both years, the Caps had their struggles through the regular season and left some in doubt. This time around, they’ve learned how to come back from near the bottom of the standings, and coach Adam Oates has seemingly revived the troubled team. Starting with captain Alex Ovechkin, who after getting off to a frighteningly slow start, ended the season by winning the Rocket Richard Trophy. Of course, you can’t rely on one man to carry a team through the playoffs and thankfully, the Capitals don’t need to. Perhaps inspired by Ovechkin’s efforts (or Oates’ coaching), the rest of the team seemed to pick up around the time he took off and started working together. They now have four lines that can contribute both offensively and defensively and a defensive squad that understands where they need to be. It also goes without saying that goaltender Braden Holtby has kept the team in the game on more than one occasion, as has newly re-signed Michal Neuvirth.
The Rangers, on the other hand, have Henrik Lundqvist, who on any team would be intimidating to play against. However, the Rangers currently have some injuries that make the team more vulnerable, both offensively and defensively. That’s not to say it’ll be a piece of cake for the Caps; the Rangers still have a good, hard-working team and an elite and experienced goaltender ready to back them up. Still, don’t expect the series being a full-on goaltender’s battle. If the Capitals can keep it up and wear down the Rangers effectively and refrain from making simple mistakes that have cost them in the past, we could see the Caps take the series in 5 or 6.
Caps in 5 or 6
Why the Caps can win: The team is all-around working. Under Bruce Boudreau the offense was working but defensively they were sub par, especially in the playoffs. Under Dale Hunter, the defense worked but offensively they were lousy. Under Oates, both systems are working very well. Mix in a young goaltender playing some of his best hockey and they could be very hard to beat.
Why the Rangers can win: Henrik Lundqvist. With star defenseman Marc Staal still injured after taking the puck to his eye, the King will have to be on top of his game. When he is there he is one of the best goalies in the league, if not the best. While the Rangers are not the same team the Caps faced last season, they are still talented offensively.
Caps in 6
Even though this will be the fourth time in five years that the Caps meet the Rangers in the playoffs, I still think it will be a series to remember. A new head coach, a rejuvenated captain, and an actually decent defensive core will make for quite the interesting series against the inconsistent Rags. Although the Rangers and the Caps finished with just about the same record there is a clear cut difference between who the better team is here. The Caps went 25-10-2 after a 2-8-1 start to claim yet another SE Division title. The Rangers on the other hand were more of a low key team bouncing back and forth between the 10 through 6 spots never being able to string together more than a four game winning streak in this shortened NHL season. With lines like Johannson-Backstrom-Ovi and Erat-Ribeiro-Brouwer were finally becoming more of an offensive threat instead of being just a one line show. When one line gets shut down the other produces and when both get shut down don’t forget we have players like Fehr and Perreault manning out third line.
In past years this is usually where the conversation would’ve stopped: We have a great offense, end of story. However this year as of late our offense is only half the story. With solid defensive pairings that have been together for over ten games now we have a much more rounded game. Oates decision to have one left-handed and one right-handed shooter at the beginning of the season may have seemed a little bull-headed but if you look at how our defense has contributed points wise you’ll have a quick change of heart. Along with offensive contributions our defense is playing solid on our own zone as well. With one offensively minded defensive men and one defensively minded defensive men per pair our D has been able to keep far more puck away from Holtby as of late. Which brings me to my final point, goaltending. In 2008 it was Huet, in 2009 and 2010 it was Varlamov, in 2011 it was Neuvirth, and in 2012 it was Holtby. This will make it only the second time in the Ovechkin Era that we go into the playoffs with the same goaltender as last year. With all of Oates confidence invested in Holtby he will be our man who we look to keep pucks out of our net. After a shaky start the first year rookie has put up sparkling numbers as one of the best in the league. Overall these stats look great and make us feel like we’re the best, which we kinda are, but now it’s playoff time and that changes everything.
Caps in 6
OK, I’ll be honest – I haven’t been the most ardent fangirl when it comes to the Caps this year. That’s partly because I tend to spend my time in the minors, and partly because I’m still disillusioned with the whole mess that was the NHL and the lockout. I’m putting that out there for the sake of posterity, but I’d hope that most readers are familiar enough with me to know that I tend to keep my analyses and predictions fairly separate from my current state of enthusiasm.
That being said, I’m going to fall back on my tried-and-true approach to round table playoff predictions and err on the side of the ridiculous & specific. So, Caps v. Rangers: Lundqvist and Holtby will again be eerily in parallel for at least 3 of the games. We’ll see two shutouts, at least one of them will be against the Caps. Rick Nash will be shockingly invisible, the Rangers will block so many shots they won’t need uniforms to be red, white, and blue, and Matts Zuccarello will score a game-winning goal. Ovechkin will spend half of the series completely shut-down, even without Marc Staal on the ice, but will have at least one stunningly beautiful breakaway.
Rangers in 6
On paper it looks the Caps should win, hands down. They have the “Rocket” Richard winner (Alex Ovechkin), the highest goal-scoring defenseman (Mike Green), a center 3rd in the league in assists (Nick Backstrom), a goalie with 23 wins on the season (Braden Holtby) and a league leading 26.83 power play percentage. Quite impressive– on paper. But if the Caps want it, they will have to fight for it on the ice. The playoffs are a different story and impressive stats mean nothing. It’s a different pace and intensity, and the Rangers are in it to win it, too. After all, they eliminated the Caps in seven games last year. If the Caps can erase that bad memory, maintain their current level of play, stay out of the penalty box (3rd worst PK in the league), and Holtby stays smart and solid between the pipes, they’ll win in six games.
Caps in 6