Another reminder that we will do a Live Playoff Chat at 11:30 leading into Game 1 of the Rangers-Capitals series tonight in D.C. Be there. Or else.
Later today I will post my matchups for the series, and of course we will have our first postseason “It’s Go Time!” thread tonight.
Meanwhile, here’s the column I wrote for The Journal News and LoHud.com today:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH — The Washington Capitals are on a roll. They are super-duper dangerous. Watch out below.
Well, part of that is true, but beware of buying too much of it.
The Capitals, with their rookie head coach Adam Oates and their rejuvenated superstar Alex Ovechkin, and their recovered offensive defenseman Mike Green and all, finished the season with exactly one more point than the disappointing, mediocre, inconsistent Rangers.
One stinking point. And that while playing in the league’s worst division, which didn’t produce another playoff team. OK? Most of their 11-1-1 finishing kick was against teams from the pathetic Southeast.
The Rangers finished the season on their own little roll, going 10-3-1 in the last 14, playing a late-season schedule stacked with Southeast teams (plus two against a Devils team that had packed it in).
The point is, don’t be fooled. Yes, these are both teams to take seriously. Yes, these are two teams that probably would have a chance in any series (other than against Pittsburgh, probably).
But they aren’t Cup favorites. They aren’t the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. They aren’t even the 2011-12 Rangers.
So it’s a wait-and-see series, especially for the eyes on the Rangers — who, if they had won one of the two late games they lost to the worst team in hockey, Florida, could have been the fifth seed.
The Rangers have a different look since they added Mats Zuccarello, Derrick Brassard, John Moore and Ryane Clowe (who is injured) around the trade deadline. They were a one-line team before that, and now they are a three-line team, in terms of offense.
Credit for that also goes to the re-emergence of Brad Richards, who was supposed to be the No. 1 center on a line with with Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash, and is now playing a lesser role … with Zuccarello and Nash, who plays the fifth playoff game of his career Thursday.
Richards’ goals have been fluky, but he does have 11 points in the last six games, and he’s made plays. He must produce, especially on the power play, for the Rangers to have any chance against Washington or anybody.
He owns most of the Rangers’ playoff pedigree, and their only Stanley Cup ring (not to mention a Conn Smythe Trophy). But that Richards has not lived here much this season.
The Rangers’ inconsistent (or consistently bad, most of the season) power play is probably the reason they can’t be favored in this series, because Washington is going to score goals, and score power-play goals.
As many Rangers said in this elongated week of practice — a sort of NHL mini-lockout after the ridiculous and unnecessary season-shortening lockout from September to January — special teams are going to determine the winner of this series. So, to repeat, the Rangers better find a way to score on their man-advantages.
The Rangers also need to prove they can grind against a good team, and defend against a strong offensive team and an all-world offensive player. They need to control the puck in the offensive zone and wear out the Washington defense, and play keep-away from Ovechkin and Co.
They need to do more than “test” Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who is a step down from Henrik Lundqvist, but who played equal to Lundqvist in the seven-game Rangers victory last spring.
When the Rangers, in recent history, have hit hard times, it almost always has been their inability to score goals that was to blame. This team, even with all the new players, has to prove that it can score.
And if it can’t, well, fore.