Capitals-Rangers Preview


The New York Rangers have a short turnaround following a contentious game with a division rival. Some motivation might help them fight off any resulting fatigue.

In a game that starts early Sunday afternoon, the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers will host the Washington Capitals for the first time since last year's playoff defeat.

New York (35-13-5) moved six points ahead of Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division with its fifth win in as many tries over the Flyers this season. Ryan Callahan recorded his second career hat trick and Marian Gaborik had a season-high four points during a game that featured a combined 110 penalty minutes, including a season-high 42 for the Rangers.

New York also scored three power-play goals to match its total over the previous 19 games (3 for 50).

"We're just trying to keep the swagger on anybody we play," coach John Tortorella said. "We're trying to stay consistent in our preparation. We're trying to stay consistent in how we play and just try to keep the momentum on our side."

Tortorella's club, which didn't clinch a playoff berth until the last day of last season, lost to the top-seeded Capitals in five games in the first round of the playoffs. New York also lost in seven games to Washington in the 2009 Eastern quarterfinals.

The Rangers, 6-1-1 over their last eight, have split two games with Washington this season, winning 6-3 on Nov. 25 and falling 4-1 on Dec. 28. Martin Biron started the latter contest and could be in net again with his team playing on consecutive days.

Biron, though, is 2-4-2 in his last eight regular-season appearances against Washington, while starter Henrik Lundqvist has two shutouts in a personal three-game win streak versus the Capitals. He also had a 2.26 goals-against average in last year's playoff series.

While the Rangers are well on their way to returning to the postseason, the Capitals (28-21-5) are fighting to stay in contention. They are one point behind eighth-place Toronto and two back of Southeast Division leader Florida.

Washington helped itself with a 4-0 home victory over the Panthers on Tuesday but wrapped up its three-game homestand with a 3-2 shootout defeat to Winnipeg two days later, giving up two goals in the final 2:15 of regulation.

The first of those were scored after Brooks Laich was sent to the penalty box for playing with a broken stick and the second was on a deflected 82-foot shot.

"We should have had the hockey game," Laich said. "It's disappointing to lose it that way."

The Capitals will play six of their next eight on the road, where they're 9-14-3, and they open a four-game trip in Florida on Friday. Including the two recent playoff series, Washington is 7-3-1 in its last 11 at Madison Square Garden.

"It'll be an intense game," coach Dale Hunter said. "They had Philly (on Saturday) and have us (on Sunday), so it's two big games for them. ... We have to be ready to play."

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has been ready lately with three goals and an assist over his last two games. He had a team-best six points (three goals, three assists) during last season's playoff series, and has one goal and two assists in the two matchups this season.

Callahan, who fractured his right leg before last year's playoffs, has two goals and five assists over his last four games against Washington.