The No. 1 seed New York Rangers and the No. 7 seed Washington Capitals will clash in the Eastern Conference semifinals beginning Saturday afternoon in New York. Here are 10 items for your consideration about this matchup.
10. The Rangers and Capitals are playoff BFFs
This will be the third time in the past four seasons that the two franchises will face each other in the postseason. For this occasion, it won't be in the first round for a change. Washington eliminated New York in 2009 and 2011, but both teams are very different this time around.
"The past is the past," Lundqvist said after the Rangers won Game 7 by beating Ottawa 2-1 on Thursday. "I don't think about what happened last year or whatever. It's different teams. We're in a different place and they're in a different place. I'm going to approach it the same way I approached this one, not overthink it or try to do too much. Their top guys are really talented and can make some big plays out of nothing, so we have to be ready."
The Caps have won four of the previous six postseason meetings between the teams. But both of the Rangers' wins have come in this round -- New York upset Washington in 1986 and beat the Caps in five in 1994 on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.
Both played seven-game series in the first round and split the season series 2-2.
9. History says the Capitals will lose this series or lose in the Stanley Cup Final
Washington's series with the Boston Bruins was the first in NHL history to feature all seven games being decided by one goal. And the Capitals became the 16th No. 7 seed to oust a No. 2 seed since the NHL switched to its current playoff format in 1994. According to the Washington Post's Neil Greenberg, this could mean good or bad things for the Capitals, but either way it won't end well. Of the previous fortunate No. 7 seeds, 11 lost their second round matchup, while the other four went on to the Final only to fall short there.
8. Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky need to get going
New York was 11th in the NHL during the regular season averaging 2.71 goals per game. In their seven game series with Ottawa they averaged just two goals a game. While defensively they've been strong, New York will need to some of their offensive weapons to wake up if they want to find a way to beat Braden Holtby. Dubinsky struggled during the regular season with just 10 goals and that has continued into the playoffs where he's recorded only an assist and is currently dealing with a lower-body injury. With 41 goals in the regular season, Gaborik needs to be the offensive leader for the Rangers. He only scored once against Ottawa. That will need to change.
7. John Tortorella isn't a fan of press conferences.
We're all aware of Torts' "love" of speaking with the media and his distaste for doing so has shown this season with pressers of 15 seconds, 53 seconds and one that featured him using just six words. He's already been fined twice by the NHL this year for a combined $50,000 was suspended a game for a water bottle incident with a fan in 2009. If things are going downhill for the Rangers in the series, postgame ratings might spike up a bit.
6. Nothing is going to faze Braden Holtby.
"No. I don't feel more comfortable or anything. Not that I felt uncomfortable before. It's still the same," Holtby said. "We're still a confident group in here. I still feel confident in my abilities that I can give this team a chance to win. It doesn't change much. It's still the Capitals vs. Rangers."
The Capitals rookie netminder was fantastic against the Bruins recording all four wins in the series and posting a 2.00 goals against average and .940 save-percentage. Going against the East's top seed and playing in a tough environment won't disrupt Holtby's focus on what he needs to accomplish. His mindset heading into the series is exactly what you want if you're a Caps fan.
5. Which special teams unit will falter?
Both power plays and penalty kills were about similar in the first round. The only major difference was New York allowing two more goals down a man on three more shorthanded situations. The Rangers' power play was a sight for sore eyes during the regular season, but came up big in Game 6 against Ottawa. New York had the most power play opportunities in Round 1 with 32, while Washington was 14th with 19. A good Washington kill throughout the series will make things even tighter.
4. Liam Neeson is a big Rangers fan and he'll hunt you down.
Seriously. Didn't you see what he did in "Taken" and "The Grey"? Don't let that happen to you.
3. Alex Ovechkin vs. Dan Girardi
The two are very familiar with each other as the Rangers' defenseman has been given the assignment over his career to shutdown the talented Russian. Ovechkin scored twiced and tallied five points against the Bruins, but won't have to face as physical a defense pairing as Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, or be shadowed by the likes of a Patrice Bergeron. Ovechkin also seems to have enjoyed playing under the dimmed lights of MSG. But will his ice time increase or will Head Coach Dale Hunter continue using line matching as much as he can?
2. A lot of shots will not get through to Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby.
These two teams really enjoy sacrificing the body and blocking shots. The Rangers leadall playoff teams with 155 blocked shots and the Capitals are third with 139. Dan Girardi leads all players with 30. Karl Alzer and John Carlson are tops for the Capitals with 17 each.
Rangers in 6. Will the Capitals continue to buy what Dale Hunter is selling? Maybe. But they're going up against a deep Rangers team that hasn't let any sort of distraction, well, distract them from being successful this season. If Holtby continue to play like he has, he gives Washington a fighting chance. In the end, it'll be Hart Trophy nominee Henrik Lundqvist once again being the difference for New York.