Second Round Preview: Rangers vs. Capitals

The New York Rangers will face the Washington Capitals for the fifth time since 2009 in the postseason in the second round of the 2015 playoffs. The series will start Thursday April 30 at 7:30 pm in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. Once again, the New York Rangers will once again be heavy favorites going in, but the Capitals are not a team to be taken lightly. 

After a rough series against the Islanders, the Capitals defied history and won in a Game 7. Despite playing an inexperienced playoff team, the Capitals did not coast to victory. As the Rangers finally won a playoff series in less than seven games, they have the advantage of rest on their side.

The Rangers will be without fan favorite Mats Zuccarello during the entirety of the series, after suffering from a concussion during Game 5. His line with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash has certainly been a factor in the postseason so far, with Brassard leading the team in goals and tied with Rick Nash with a team high four points in the playoffs. Zuccarello is certainly a catalyst for the Blueshirts and will certainly be missed.

On a lighter note, defenseman Kevin Klein will be back in the lineup after sitting out due to a broken arm. This means that Matt Hunwick will be sitting in the press box. Klein was the most reliable blue liner this season for New York and he will certainly bring his defensive smarts as well as offensive touch that has helped make the Rangers so successful.

Both teams have certainly struggled on the power play this postseason as well. The Rangers went 3 for 20 in the first round (15%) while the Capitals went 2 for 13 (15%). Washington had one of the best power plays during the regular season and should be kept off the ice. They are quite dangerous if you take too many penalties. The Rangers can be one of the best penalty killing teams in the league, but against a red hot power play, the team needs to remain disciplined.

Goaltending will be a huge factor in this series, as it will be in every round the Rangers will be play. Lundqvist is a veteran goaltender who certainly raises his level of competitiveness and intensity in the postseason. The rest will certainly do him good, as he had a two month break due to injury and a five day break between games. On the other hand, Holtby is coming off a season where he played 73 games to Henrik’s 46. He faced a lot of shots during the best of seven series against the Islanders and will certainly be facing fatigue.

As always, the Rangers will be successful if their star players (i.e. Rick Nash) come through and their bottom six forwards add more additional scoring. With Zuccarello out, their bottom six takes a hit with St. Louis moving to the top line. Their star players have been contributing, but they will need them now more than ever if they hope to be successful.

Of course, the biggest mismatch between teams is the size. The Capitals are a big heavy team (averaging 6’2″ and 211 pounds) who love to take the body. They grind out their opponents in all the battle areas and try to wear down the opposition. The Rangers average about 6’1″ and 210 pounds, but are the much faster team. General Manager Glen Sather has built this team around speed and if the Capitals try to get in a foot race type of game with New York, they are will come out on the losing end.

The Rangers have found ways to win in every single situation possible this season, and obviously have doubters saying they cannot match the Capitals style of play. If they can remain disciplined, get their top players to score a little bit more, and of course, rely on their speed as well as the goaltender, they will be successful. The players know it will be a battle, more so than the Pittsburgh series, and must be ready for a big physical series.

Prediction: New York Rangers in 7 games.

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