Caps vs. Rangers in the playoffs. Hmm, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It should.
This will be the fifth series between the two team since 2009, the most meetings between two teams in that stretch.
Though it may seem like the same teams meeting again and again, only three player for each team have played in all four previous series: Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers and Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom for the Caps.
The Caps and Rangers met four times in the regular season with the Rangers winning three of those meetings. Braden Holtby was in net for all four games and he did not fare well with a 3.06 GAA and .897 save percentage.
The Caps’ first period struggles may follow them to this round as the Rangers outscored them 7-2 in the first period this season. Overall, New York outscored the Caps 13-10, but despite the Rangers’ familiarity with slowing down Ovechkin, he still managed to score five of the Caps’ 10 goals. In fact, no player in the NHL has scored more goals against Lundqvist than the Great 8 (26). He will need to be just as potent this series given how dominant Lundqvist looked New York’s opening series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Lundqvist managed an insane 1.53 GAA against Pittsburgh, holding SIdney Crosby to only two goals and Chris Kunitz to one. Evgeni Malkin had no point at all in the series.
Barry Trotz finds himself to be a newcomer to this rivalry in his first year as the Capitals’ coach though he and Alain Vigneault have met once before in the playoffs. In 2011, Trotz and the Nashville Predators met Vigneault and the Vancouver Canucks in the conference semifinals. Vancouver won in six games.
Overall, Trotz has eight playoff appearances with a 23-34 record. Vigneault has nine appearances and a 54-54 record.
But this postseason has been about the Caps overcoming their playoff history which they did in their first round win over the Islanders.
Not only did they play their best game in Game 7, a situation in which the Caps have struggled in the past, but it was also the first time in franchise history that the team allowed no power play goals in a series.
Some have pointed to the exploits of Evgeny Kuznetsov as a major reason for the team’s win over the Islanders and they may be right. Kuznetsov was not with the team for their past struggles, but he delivered for the Caps in a big way. Not only did he record four points in the first round, he also scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 making him the first Caps’ rookie to do so.
The Rangers have won the last two playoff series between these two teams with both series going seven games. Could Kuznetsov be the key to winning this series as well?
Round two begins on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin braces himself for another war on ice