The single most important line this series (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert).
As Game 1 nears, we have covered almost every aspect of how the Caps and the Rangers will match up against each other. The one thing that hasn’t been covered is the particular line matchups that Adam Oates will deploy against the Rangers, particularly in Games 1 and 2 where he has the last change. As Suit pointed out last season, getting the right line matchups can be critical to a team’s success, and there are certain pairings we should expect the Rangers top guys to see as they play the games.
Per Left Wing Lock (courtesy of JP of Japers Rink), the Caps lines have been rather static in their formation of late: Alex Ovehckin-Nicklas Backstrom-Marcus Johansson, Troy Brouwer-Mike Ribiero-Martin Erat, Jason Chimera-Mathieu Perreault-Eric Fehr, Aaron Volpatti-Matt Hendricks-Jay Beagle. Since Joel Ward is likely to be back in the lineup, expect him to slot in for Fehr on the third line, with Volpatti coming out of the lineup and Fehr moving to the fourth line. On defense, you have Karl Alzner-Mike Green, John Erksine-John Carlson, and Jack Hillen-Steve Oleksy.
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AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
The Rangers have gotten to know the Washington Capitals quite well in recent seasons, beyond the regular season. It goes without saying that there’s not likely to be many surprises facing either side entering this series, so what do the Rangers need to do to steal game one away and take away home ice advantage? Let’s look at the keys to victory for your New York Rangers.
This is the most obvious – and most crucial – aspect of the entire series, as it always is when taking on the Capitals. Without Marc Staal, who always does a great job defending Ovechkin, things will be different. Defending who is arguably the best player right now in the NHL will be done by committee.
The keys will be keeping Ovechkin to the outside, allowing Lundqvist to see the shot and not allow Ovechkin to enter the zone at speed as often as possible. Reports suggest Tortorella will split up McDonagh and Girardi to help negate Ovechkin. This will be key as the Caps look for matchup advantages throughout the series.
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Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America
One of the oldest adages of hockey is that to win games, you must stay out of the penalty box. Nothing revolutionary there, it makes sense that you don’t want to give your opponent too many chances to outnumber you on the ice.
It will certainly ring true in Round One, when the Rangers face Washington’s #1 ranked power play, which converted at a 26.8% rate this season. The Blueshirts must continue to play disciplined hockey, but that could be tricky; Washington’s offense isn’t just a handful on the power play, the Capitals rank fourth overall in offense and possess the league’s hottest scorer, the resurgent Alex Ovechkin.
You might have heard that Ovechkin was left for dead and then came roaring back with 27 goals in his final 32 games to end up leading the league. Unsurprisingly, Ovechkin did his most damage on the power play, where he netted 16 goals, a ridiculous six more than the league’s second-most productive player, Steven Stamkos. Read more »
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press
As Suit said this morning, the Rangers and the Caps are meeting in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Last year, the Caps took the top seeded Rangers to a seventh game under Dale Hunter, who is now departed. Replacing him was Adam Oates, who took a unique style of coaching with him to Washington, and after a slow start, the Caps picked it up and ran with it.
This is not the same Caps team that the Rangers went 2-0-1 against. These Caps are 11-1-1 in April, and 15-2-2 over their last 19 games. They have been clicking on all cylinders, and really adapting to Oates’ hybrid systems. While there is generally an adjustment period to a new coach and a new system, the Caps full adjustment has made them the hottest team in the NHL heading into the post season, and teams are having trouble defending their hybrid schemes.
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The schedule for the first round has been released, and the Rangers/Caps will kick off their series on Thursday. The extra day off (other series start Wednesday) is great for the Rangers, as it gives them an extra day to get their guys (Marc Staal, Brian Boyle, Ryane Clowe, Derek Dorsett) healthy.
- Game 1: Thursday May 2nd, at 7:30PM
- Game 2: Saturday May 4th at 12:30PM (NBC)
- Game 3: Monday May 6th at 7:30PM
- Game 4: Wednesday May 8th at 7:30PM
- Game 5: Friday May 10 at 7:30PM
- Game 6: Sunday May 12 TBD
- Game 7: Monday May 13 TBD
All games are on NBC/NBCSN (or CNBC, but I doubt that will happen with Rangers/Caps).
Pick a team, any team…
With the Rangers finally clinching a playoff spot last night with their win over Carolina, the final game of the season against the Devils has lost some significance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m tremendously grateful that the boys from Newark don’t get to play spoiler against us a week after we eliminated them from postseason contention. However, the game could be important when it comes to shuffling out the bottom of the Eastern Conference deck.
The Rangers, Islanders and Senators currently sit 6-8 in the East with 54 points. The Sens hold a game in hand on both the Rangers and Isles. At the moment, the Rangers hold the tiebreaker with 21 regulation wins to the Senators’ and Islanders’ 20. As we know, the Rangers only remaining opponent is New Jersey on Saturday, while the Isles only have lowly Buffalo remaining, and Ottawa has Philly and Boston. The final few games could have the bottom three spots in the conference shake out in a number of ways.
This got me thinking, out of the four possible opponents for the Blueshirts in the first round, is there really a preferred matchup? As the standings currently, well, stand, the Rangers could potentially matchup against Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, or slightly less likely Montreal. Let’s have a gander at how the Rangers match up against each one…
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Still control their own fate.
The Rangers lost last night. It happens. They dominated the game, but still fell short to an inferior team. It happens. The Blackhawks had their record streak broken by the 29th best team in the league this season. The Rangers lost to the worst team in the league. A team that has still won 13 games this season. It happens.
What is more important is that the Jets lost. What is more important is that the Rangers control their own destiny. What is more important is that the Rangers’ magic number is at two. What is more important is that any combination of the Rangers getting two points in their final two games OR the Jets losing two points in their final game (remember, the Rangers have a game in hand) and the Rangers qualify for the playoffs.
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Photo credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke
The Rangers still sit in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, one point back of the Islanders, and two points ahead of the Winnipeg/Washington faction with a game in hand. Excuse me for getting ahead of myself here, but looking at the Rangers upcoming schedule and position in the standings, I am 100% confident that this club will make the playoffs. At this point, it’s about jockeying for playoff seeding.
At this point, seeds 1-5 are essentially a given. The #1 seed will be Pittsburgh. The #2 seed will be either Boston or Montreal. The #3 seed will be either Washington or Winnipeg. The #4 seed is either Boston or Montreal, and the #5 seed is Toronto. Toronto is the only team that could be unseated from their spot, but it’s unlikely any of Ottawa, the Islanders, or the Rangers are capable of doing that this late in the season.
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Barton Silverman/The New York Times
The Ottawa Senators nabbed the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last season with 92 points in 82 games. That works out to an average of 1.12 points per contest, which equates to roughly 53 points in a lockout-shortened 48-game season.
In 2010-2011, 93 points was enough to grant the Blueshirts the final playoff spot, which is on pace with the Sens last season. In 2009-2010, 88 points sealed the deal, which is a little off the 1.12 mark set by the Rangers and Sens in previous years. Using this math, we can assume that the mid 50s is a reasonable target to earn a playoff spot again this year.
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*All playoff stats through three rounds
- Henrik Lundqvist posted a sparkling .930 SV% this season, a ratio that has only been achieved 14 other times in NHL history by goalies that have played 40 games or more. (via @b1rky)
- Lundqvist during the regular season: 39-18-5, 1.97 GAA, .930 SV%, 8 SO
- Lundqvist during the postseason: 10-10, 1.82 GAA, .931 SV%, 3 SO
- Goal support during the regular season: 2.7 goals per game
- Goal support during the playoffs: 2.15 goals per game
- Dan Girardi led all NHL defensemen in playoff scoring with 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists).
- The Rangers’ leader in Corsi rating for the postseason? That would be Boston College’s own Chris Kreider, who posted a 15.49 rating.
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