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Rangers-Capitals matchups

Posted By Carp On April 27, 2012 @ 7:52 pm In Hockey,New York Rangers,NHL | 88 Comments

FORWARDS:
This is obviously where the Capitals are most dangerous, and most confusing. Alex Ovechkin is coming off what is seen as a bad year (yet he scored 38 goals). He was benched at times in the Boston series. But he loves playing against the Rangers, especially at MSG, and his rivalries against the Rangers’ top three defensemen is legendary. Nick Backstrom missed 40 games with a concussion, yet he had 44 points in 42 games. Alex Semin is mercurial, and often a target of criticism for effort and grit, but was second on the team in scoring. Marcus Johansson is highly skilled. Then there are the grit guys: Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks and especially¬† Mike Knuble and Joel Ward, who were scratched at times, and who combined for the winning goal in OT in Game 7 of the first round (incidentally, John Tortorella was an assistant on the Rangers staff that thought it was a good idea to trade Knuble for Rob DiMaio in 2000). The Capitals only had Ovechkin, Backstrom and D-man Mike Green in the same lineup for 12 games during the season, but were 11-1 in those games.
The Rangers, have skill, too, just not as much of it. Brad Richards was very good throughout the Ottawa series. Marian Gaborik was shut down quite a bit. Ryan Callahan’s playing with a bad hand. Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle may not play Game 1, or who knows when? So it will be up to guys like Derek Stepan, who played sensationally in Games 5-6-7, and X-factor speedster rookies Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider, and grind guys like Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko to make a difference.
EDGE: Capitals.

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DEFENSEMEN:
This was the Rangers’ strong suit, especially in Games 6 an 7 vs. Ottawa, but throughout really, as they clamped down on Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Daniel Alfredsson, et al. Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal have all battled the Capitals and Ovechkin for years, and they were great in Game 7. Michael Del Zotto was battle tested, and passed, throughout the series, as did Anton Stralman. Stu Bickel provides toughness in his few shifts. It’s possible Bickel moves up to a wing and Steve Eminger plays if both Boyle and Dubinsky are out.
The Capitals’ D is better than some think — a mixed group that includes offensive Mike Green (who played just 32 games with concussion issues), and Dennis Wideman, John Carlsson, Karl Alzner, Jeff Schultz, Roman Hamrlik and tough John Erskine.
EDGE: Rangers.

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GOALTENDERS:
On paper, this is a no-brainer, just as the Rangers-Ottawa matchup should have been. But guys rise to the occasion, and Braden Holtby, the third-string Capitals goalie, stepped up in the first round with injuries sidelining Tomas Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth. The Rangers dispatched of Jose Theodore in the ‘09 series, and were beaten by unknown backup Simeon Varlamov. Last year they were wiped out by Neuvirth.
Henrik Lundqvist lost both of those series, even though he was responsible for the 3-1 lead in games in the ‘09 meeting. He’s a better goalie now, with a much better team in front of him, and he is their best player. He has to be their best player over the next two weeks, and as long as they last.
EDGE: Rangers.

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SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Rangers power play has been awful forever, but it came up with two big games in the last series, including a pair of PPGs in the Game 6 survival in Ottawa. It has to produce something at times during this series. Their penalty kill has been good all year, and was good vs. Ottawa’s strong power play (but did bend, allowing four PPGs). Washington went 3-19 on the power play, but killed 21 of 23 Boston power plays.
EDGE: Even.

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COACHING:
John Tortorella got himself suspended during the ‘09 series with Washington. But he has done a masterful job in building this team, which plays playoff hockey all year, and which has arrived a year or two earlier than expected. He’s won a Cup as a coach with Tampa Bay.
Dale Hunter replaced very successful Bruce Boudreau (and became the first person to score a Game 7-winning goal and coach a Game 7 victory). He’s a rookie NHL coach, also a motivator, with no NHL championship experience as a player or coach.
EDGE: Rangers.

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My second-round predictions:

EASTERN CONFERENCE:
Rangers over Capitals in 6.
Flyers over Devils in 6.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:
Blues over Kings in 7.
Predators over Coyotes in 5.

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Here is my game story from the Game 7 clincher [1], from LoHud.com and The Journal News.

Here is the Rangers’ notebook by Josh Thomson [2], 26.


Article printed from Rangers Report: http://rangers.lohudblogs.com

URL to article: http://rangers.lohudblogs.com/2012/04/27/rangers-capitals-matchups-2/

URLs in this post:

[1] Here is my game story from the Game 7 clincher: http://www.lohud.com/article/20120427/SPORTS/304270033/Rangers-survive-advance?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Sports

[2] Here is the Rangers’ notebook by Josh Thomson: http://www.lohud.com/article/20120427/SPORTS/304270080