Quick Links

Rangers a very different opponent than Islanders


Rangers a very different opponent than Islanders

The Capitals and Rangers are no strangers to each other in the playoffs, having met three times in the past four years.

Beginning Thursday night in Madison Square Garden, they’ll go at it again.

This time, the defending Eastern Conference champion Rangers will be heavily favored.

“They’re deep at every position,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “They’re fast. But if they need to play a physical game they will. We’re equipped to handle a physical game and we want to play that, but we’ve got guys who can skate, too.

“They’re good. They finished first in the league [113 points] for a reason and we’ve got our hands full. But if we play like we can I think we’ve got a chance.”

The Rangers, who won three of the four games against the Caps during the regular season, have not played since Saturday night when Carl Hagelin scored in overtime to eliminate Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games. The Rangers held Evgeni Malkin without a point in that series, thanks to the suffocating play of the Rangers’ top defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was also at his best, leading all playoff goalies with four or more games played with a 1.53 GAA, and finishing third in save percentage with a .939 mark.

Lundqvist has beaten Braden Holtby and the Capitals in thrilling seven-game playoff series in 2012 and 2013. Lundqvist and the Rangers last lost to the Caps in the playoffs in 2011, when Michal Neuvirth allowed just eight goals in a five-game victory.

“I don’t really care who we beat,” Holtby said Monday night in a euphoric Caps locker room when asked how much the Caps would like to beat the Rangers. “Obviously, you look at the standings and the way they play, you knew the chances are very good you’d have to go through them to get to the Final. Like any other team you prepare, you find what you can do to be successful against them and that’s what we’re going to do.”

In their five-game defeat of the Penguins, the Rangers were led offensively by forwards Derick Brassard [3 goals, 1 assist], Rick Nash [1 goal, 3 assists] and Derek Stepan and Hagelin [2 goals, 1 assist], along with McDonagh [1 goal, 3 assists, plus-3] and Girardi [3 assists, plus-4].

The Rangers should not be as physical as the Islanders, who delivered 317 hits in their seven-game war with the Capitals. The Rangers recorded 172 hits in their five games against the Penguins, led by forwards Tanner Glass and J.T. Miller [19 hits] and Chris Kreider [18]. By comparison, the Islanders’ Matt Martin [52], Cal Clutterbuck [40] and Johnny Boychuk [33] combined for 125 hits.

“We’ll see,” said Niskanen. “This was one of the more physical series I’ve ever been in, especially against their fourth line. But the Rangers have a few guys like that, too. We’ll talk more about that as the week goes on, but it’ll be a tough challenge.”

The Caps used Tuesday to rest their bruised bodies and will return to the ice on Wednesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where they hope to have center Eric Fehr, who was knocked out of the first-round series on a check by Clutterbuck in Game 3. 

RELATED: [Schedule set for Capitals' playoff war vs. Rangers]

Quick Links

Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

USA Today Sports

Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

The Capitals may have won the game Friday against the New York Islanders, but now they will wait to see if they also suffered a significant loss.

Kuznetsov left the game in the third period after taking a slash from Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey which sent him sliding head-first into the boards. The team labeled the issue as “upper body” when it was announced he would not return to the game.

Head coach Barry Trotz was tight-lipped afterward on Kuznetsov’s status.

“They're going to re-evaluate him tomorrow and we'll have some clarity hopefully tomorrow,” he said.


You can see the play here:

When Kuznetsov is first slashed he immediately reacts. His feet then catch the stick of goalie Jaroslav Halak which sends him tripping and sliding hard into the boards. He sat on the ice for several minutes afterward and was looked at by the trainer before getting to his feet and slowly making his way to the locker room.

When asked after the game what he felt about the slash, Trotz said only, “Hockey play.”

One of the Capitals’ biggest strengths as a team is their depth down the middle. Any injury to a center, considering it is arguably the most important skating position on the ice, would be significant. An injury to the team’s top-line center would be even more costly.

Kuznetsov leads the team with 28 assists and ranks second in both goals (21) and points (69).