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Caps vs. Rangers: Playoff heroes from the past

Caps vs. Rangers: Playoff heroes from the past

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers will meet for the first time this season on Wednesday at Capital One Arena (7 p.m., NBCSN). There’s a lot of history between these two teams.

The Caps and Rangers have met nine times in the playoffs, producing a good number of memorable postseason moments and heroes.

Here’s a look back at some of the more memorable playoff heroes between these two teams.

1990: John Druce’s monster postseason

Before Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly’s 2018 postseason heroics, there was John Druce. In the 1989-90 season, Druce scored eight goals and 11 points in 24 games for the Capitals. No one could have possibly predicted what he was going to do in the playoffs that year.

Druce became unstoppable in the playoffs in 1990, scoring 14 goals and 17 points in 15 games, but it took him a while to get going.

Washington defeated the New Jersey Devils in six games of the first round setting up a second round matchup against the first place Rangers. Druce had three goals against the Devils, but exploded against the Rangers for nine goals and 11 points in just five games, including a hat trick performance in Game 2. The Caps went on to cruise to a 4-1 series win over New York. It was the first time in franchise history the team advanced past the second round.

1991: Alan May’s first playoff goal

Local legend May scored only one playoff goal in his career, but it was a big one. It came in 1991, Game 4 against the Rangers. Washington trailed the series 2-1 at that point, but in the third period May managed to whack the puck through the five-hole of Mike Richter to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. The goal would prove to be the game-winner and tied the series at 2 games apiece. Washington would not lose again in that series.

2009: Sergei Fedorov scores the Game 7 winner

In Alex Ovechkin’s fourth season, the Caps made the playoffs for the second consecutive year. After finishing first in the Eastern Conference, expectations were higher for Washington than the year prior. Their first round opponent was the Rangers who proved to be a tougher out than most had expected.

New York stunned Washington by winning three of the first four games of the series. The Caps battled back to win the next two to force a Game 7. With the score tied at 1 late in the third period, 39-year-old Fedorov, who was acquired at the trade deadline the year before, took the puck from his own zone, streaked down the right side of the ice, pulled up at the faceoff dot and fired a wrister that beat Henrik Lundqvist to the top shelf.

The goal would prove to be the series winner giving Washington its first playoff victory in the Ovechkin era and the first since 1998.

2011: Jason Chimera scores in double OT

Meeting in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, the Caps took a 2-0 series lead on the Rangers in 2011. New York hoped to even up the series when play shifted to Madison Square Garden. The Rangers won Game 3 and the two teams battled to a 3-3 tie through 80 minutes in Game 4. Finally in double overtime, Chimera finished off the blue shirts.

Chimera tried to shoot on net, but the puck was blocked Bryan McCabe and headed towards Lundqvist who was poised to cover it up and stop play. Marian Gaborik got his signals crossed, however, and swept the puck away from his own goalie and right to Chimera who had followed up his shot. With the puck behind Lundqvist, Chimera had an easy tap in for the winner.

2013: Mike Green’s one-timer wins it in OT

As a defenseman, Green was a player with some flaws to his game in his own zone. When he was in his prime, however, there were few blue liners as clutch offensively.

In the brief Adam Oates era, the Capitals made the playoffs only once and faced the Rangers in the first round in 2013. Washington took Game 1 and looked to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Both teams battled to a scoreless draw through 60 minutes in Game 2, forcing overtime.

Steven Oleksy took a delay of game penalty early in the overtime for the Caps. Washington killed it off and Ryan McDonagh returned the favor with a delay of game penalty of his own five minutes later. That was the wrong team to give a power play to.

Mike Ribeiro faked a slap shot then passed it to the point for a Green one-timer. The shot deflected off Derek Stepan, off the post and into the net.

2015: Joel Ward scores the game-winner with one second left to go

Ward pulled off perhaps the most remarkable finish to a playoff game in Caps history. After dispatching the New York Islanders in Round 1 in Barry Trotz’s first season behind the bench, Washington faced the Rangers in the playoffs yet again for the fifth time in seven years.

Both teams traded goals in Game 1 at Madison Square Garden and it looked like the game was headed to overtime. With just five seconds left, Nicklas Backstrom hit Dan Boyle in the corner to free up the puck. Ovechkin snatched it and skated behind the net. The Rangers got caught watching Ovechkin and lost track of Ward who was by himself in front. Ovechkin fed Ward who scored with just 1.2 seconds left on the clock to give Washington the improbable win in regulation.

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Reirden knocks Kuznetsov to the third line in effort to spark offense

Reirden knocks Kuznetsov to the third line in effort to spark offense

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Capitals will look to snap their losing skid on Sunday and avoid their first five-game losing streak since 2014 as they face the Chicago Blackhawks (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

In four straight losses, Washington has scored only four combined goals. To spark his team, Todd Reirden is bringing a new-look lineup with him to the Windy City.

"I just think from top to bottom we need to be better,” Reirden said. “Over the last 10 games, we haven't been at our best, and there's probably no real reason to single out anybody. I just think that we have another level in our game, and part of my job is to put people in situations where they can have success. Sometimes things need to be adjusted and maybe that helps. Maybe it'll work for one line and maybe not for another and then we'll work from there.”

Based on Saturday’s practice, here are what the lines will look like on Sunday:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Madison Bowey/Jonas Siegenthaler

The biggest change to the lineup is the move of Kuznetsov down to the third line.

On the surface, Kuznetsov is having a fairly good season with eight goals and 38 points in 41 games, but he has not been a dominant playmaker since the first month of the season. His production has also dried up significantly of late as he has only one goal and one assist in his last six games. In fact, Kuznetsov still has only one five-on-five goal for the entire season.

“Even-strength goals from him are not where they're used to being and have been in the past,” Reirden said. “For me, it's getting his game back to where it was to start the year. In talking to him, it's finding a way to do that. He obviously got off to that tremendous start and then was continuing to play fairly well and then has the injury, and I just don't really feel like he's gotten back to how he's started the year yet.”

The team’s sudden offensive deficiencies certainly do not lie solely at the feet of Kuznetsov, but given how dominant he was in the postseason and to start this season, his sudden drop off since then seems more glaring.

Kuznetsov declined to talk specifically about his own struggles, but did say about the team’s collective offensive struggles that “we just don’t execute those chances we had and some other games we have couple breakaways, we did not score. The hockey going this way right now it’s about two or three chances only during the games. Used to be like you can give up like three, four, five chances and you know you gonna give back, but right now it’s not that easy. It’s very defensive. So we’ve got to pay attention more to those chances we have.”

While it’s hard to see a drop to the third line as anything other than a demotion for Kuznetsov, Reirden said the changes were more to help put players in better situations. On the third line, Kuznetsov is not as likely to face an opponent’s top shutdown line or top defensemen. Perhaps some time away from another team’s top competition can help spark his own production and help him get back to the level he was playing at in October.

“For me, I'm trying to put him in situations where that can happen better," Reirden said. "Whether it's zone starts, whether it's different linemates, where it's different opportunities talking to him -- some guys respond differently to things. For us, he's such an important part of our team. We need him going on all cylinders to have success as a team, and that's how it is with all of our key guys. When I talk about another level, it's not just him, but that's a spot that our best players -- and the trickle-down effect -- need to play better."

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Four straight losses leave the Caps searching for answers

Four straight losses leave the Caps searching for answers

Figuring out what’s wrong with the Capitals isn’t all that hard. It’s figure out why that the team seems to be struggling with.

At first glance, it is obvious what the biggest problem for Washington is. In four straight losses, the Caps have been held to a combined four goals. The offense has suddenly gone dry, but no one seems quite sure why that is.

“I don't know,” Matt Niskanen said. “We're not purposefully going out there just for shits and giggles.”

Somehow a team that boasts such talented forwards as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie among others has been completely shut down offensively and that was certainly evident in Friday’s 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders.

“We're making it tough on ourselves,” Brooks Orpik said. “We're playing against teams that are trapping, and we're just trying to force pucks through the middle the whole time. You look at how they're playing against us: they're getting it behind us and a lot of offense is coming from point shots and just outbattling us in front. But we're not even getting opportunity to do that because we're trying to go through too many guys in the neutral zone.”

Washington was held to only 19 shots on goal on Friday in what looked like a rather easy shutout for Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss.

Though the scores of the last two games look dramatically different – a 7-2 blowout in Nashville and a 2-0 shutout against New York – Washington had many of the same offensive issues in those games.

When they got the puck players either held onto it too long, trying to do everything themselves and stickhandling their way into a turnover, or they tried to force passes when they weren’t open.

Trying to force offense is the sign of a frustrated team. The only real difference between the two games is that Nashville has a lot more playmakers on its roster who were able to take advantage of Washington’s mistakes with numerous turnovers ending up in the back of the Caps’ net.

“I just think we need to get back to basics and work a little harder as a team,” Backstrom. “I think we’re maybe doing a little too much by ourselves. Maybe work together a little bit better. Better execution. I think that’s something we haven’t been great at lately. Tape to tape passes. That’s a key in this league.”

It is perhaps no surprise the Caps are at a loss during their current losing streak as they don’t tend to lose this much very often. The last time Washington lost four straight games was in March 2017. Now they face the possibility of a five-game skid if they cannot find a way to beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, something they have not done since Oct.-Nov. 2014.

Their current losing streak is so unlike them it calls into question whether or not this team is simply running out of gas. They played an additional 24 playoff games plus and went through a shortened offseason. Ovechkin already backed out of the All-Star Game claiming he needs the rest, so could fatigue be playing a role in the team’s struggles?

To a man, every player who was asked said no.

“We're professional athletes,” Braden Holtby said. “You should never use that as an excuse. You get treated the best in the world health-wise. Our training staff, our strength staff, the way we travel, hotels we stay in. You never use fatigue as an excuse.”

But while the exact reason for the team’s current struggles seems hard to pin down, it’s not hard at all to figure out what the solution is.

With Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie, Tom Wilson and Jakub Vrana combining for just four goals and four assists in the team’s last four games, Washington must get more offensive from the top of the lineup in order to be successful.

“We need to be better,” Todd Reirden said. “That's right from top of our list to the bottom of our list. We need more. We need more from our players.”

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