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 . By comparison, the Islanders’ Matt Martin , Cal Clutterbuck  and Johnny Boychuk  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.