By Chris Gordon
Photo credit: Jared Silber
So, it’s the Rangers again. For the fifth time in seven seasons, the Washington Capitals will square off against the folks from Madison Square Garden in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. These series have produced signature moments in Capitals history, such as Sergei Fedorov‘s game seven winner in 2009, and crushing defeats, like when the Rangers outlasted the Capitals by just one goal in game seven of the second round in 2012, booking a spot in the Eastern Conference Final. But, as is their pattern this year, the Washington Capitals will tell you this team is different. They don’t pay attention to the past.
“All that old stuff, get rid of it,” head coach Barry Trotz, in his first year with the Capitals, said. “Let’s look to a new era. Let’s build something.”
On Thursday night, the Capitals will attempt to set up that new foundation. The Rangers are doing the same thing on their end. Last year, Alain Vigneault replaced John Tortorella, leading the New York to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994. This year, the Rangers have been just as strong, collecting 113 points to win the Presidents’ Trophy as the team with the league’s best record before besting the Penguins in five games in the first round of the postseason.
“You get in the playoffs, you don’t want to go home, you want to keep going,” forward Joel Ward said. “It gets tougher every round. Obviously we’re up against the Rangers, the Presidents’ Trophy winner. They had a good first series. Definitely it’s gonna be tough. When we play within our system and play within ourselves and not get carried away, we have better results. We’re looking forward to it. It’s gonna be fun again, going back to New York and Madison Square Garden.”
Despite the changes, there are still familiar faces on the Blueshirts, with 10 players returning from Washington’s last playoff encounter with New York. Henrik Lundqvist, the longtime Rangers netminder, posted the seventh best goals against average in the NHL this year, just behind Braden Holtby. Lundqvist’s backup, Cam Talbot, was even better. Playing in 36 games due to a neck injury suffered by Lundqvist, Talbot posted the fourth highest save percentage of any goalie in the league. While the Capitals have high-end offensive skill, the Rangers goalies may be more than up to the task.
On the flip side, the Rangers have their own firepower to throw at Holtby, with forward Rick Nash finishing third behind Alex Ovechkin in the NHL’s goal scoring race. New York, though, will be likely be without one of its best players when the series begins at MSG, as top line right Mats Zuccarello is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury.
This year, the Rangers won three of their four games against the Capitals, including the regular the season finale. But for now, that is all idle chatter.
Today, Washington will lick their wounds after a bruising seven-game series against the Islanders. At 10:30 Wednesday morning, they will be back on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, looking to advance past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since drafting Ovechkin in 2004.
“We just want to keep moving forward,” Ovechkin said.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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