First a word from our friend Manny, who is going to handle the Paul Mara extravaganza and picnic this year:
As the playoffs round into shape many of us must be forced to call our manhood (or lack of womanhood) into question. Sprouts that begin to develop on our faces will be allowed to grow unruly rather than trimmed in the spirit of American professionalism. As our Jewish friends ask every Pesach, “Why? Why is this night different from all others?” Because, my friends, it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Because it’s the Cup!
So in the spirit of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and in support of your heroes, the New York Rangers, we will be hosting the Lockout Shortened 2012-2013, Bonehead only, Semi-Annual, Paul Mara Playoff Beard Contest once again. All boneheads wishing to participate should email their “before” picture to the official contest email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Pictures will be posted on the official contest website: http://semiannualpaulmaraplayoffbeardcontest.wordpress.com/
As usual, prizes will be glorious and well thought out. As contest chairman I can guarantee fairness, equality and a chance for boneheads of all genders, creeds and sympathies. I also promise to not just willy-nilly award the prize to Sally (as usual).
Beards are no longer just for Avatars.
Here are my Rangers-Capitals matchups from The Journal News and LoHud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH — Pretty much everybody on the Rangers thinks this series, the fourth in five years between the Rangers and the Capitals, will come down to special teams, and that can’t bode well for the Rangers.
Both teams come into the series on late-season rolls, but both may have been exaggerated by soft schedules.
A breakdown of the matchups:
Washington has, without question, the best forward in the series, and it just happens that he’s on fire. Alex Ovechkin, back on the right wing and back to being a dynamic scorer (he ended up leading the NHL with 32 in the short season) loves to play the Rangers and loves to play in New York.
But he’s not the only Capitals forward who will require the Rangers’ attention. Linemates Marcus Johansson and Nick Backstrom are extremely dangerous, and the Capitals have a tough offensive second line in Martin Erat, newcomer Mike Ribiero and Troy Brouwer, who scored 19 goals. Other forwards who have caused problems for the Rangers, Jason Chimera and Matt Hendricks, had poor offensive seasons. Brooks Laich and Joel Ward are both coming off injuries and questionable.
The Rangers, since their trades for Derrick Brassard and Ryane Clowe, and the re-signing of Mats Zuccarello, have more depth than they’ve had all season, and are getting offense from three lines now (though Clowe, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett are all injured with no timetable for their returns).
Derek Stepan now centers the first line with Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin — a big change from the expected first line of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Rick Nash. Gaborik — who scored the triple-OT goal vs. Caps last spring — is gone, and Richards seems to finally be finding his game, and Nash — on his line with Zuccarello — has been good wherever he’s played. That line must produce, as must Brassard’s (with Taylor Pyatt and Chris Kreider, most likely).
The Rangers, if Marc Staal was healthy (he has not ruled himself out of the series, or out of Game 1), would have a better shot of controlling Ovechkin. Without Staal, coach John Tortorella may have to split shutdown pair Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to be sure one of them is on the ice at all times, whether with Michael Del Zotto or Anton Stralman. It will be interesting to see the type of role young newcomer John Moore gets to play. In the past, it has been Girardi with Staal or with McDonagh against Ovechkin for virtually every shift.
The Capitals’ defense is better than it’s been, and Mike Green is back to being a difference-maker offensively and on the power play. John Carlson has become a very dependable two-way defenseman, and Karl Alzner is a solid defensive D-man.
On paper, this is not a contest. Henrik Lundqvist, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, is better than Braden Holtby. But in last spring’s seven-game series, Holtby was pretty much Lundqvist’s equal, and he has historically played well against the Rangers in his short career.
Lundqvist is the X-factor in any series the Rangers play with his ability to steal games — and in fact was almost solely responsible for an undermanned Rangers team going up three games to one against the Capitals in a playoff series four seasons ago, before Washington rebounded to win three in a row.
It’s this simple. The Rangers better stay out of the penalty box. Washington had the league’s best power play during the season at 26.8 percent, and with Ovechkin going nuts, and Green — when he’s healthy and on his game, as he is now — one of the best point men in the league, it’s a nightmare for opponents.
The Rangers PP (23rd out of 30 teams at 15.7 percent) was decent in spots, but mostly abysmal. The positive that they can draw is that last season it was awful, too, but they did score some important power-play goals in the playoffs.
The Caps give them up, too, with a lousy penalty kill (27th at 77.9). The Rangers penalty killers had a rough year (15th at 81.1) especially coming off a strong PK season in 2011-12. Faceoffs will be critical on special teams, and the Rangers have been inconsistent in that department as well.
Adam Oates is being credited with awakening Ovechkin, who stalled under Bruce Boudreau and was disinterested under Dale Hunter, and for building a hybrid offense/defense team after Hunter’s all-defense system failed. Oates, it should be noted, was the Devils’ power-play coach when their power play stunk. So it’s hard to say how much credit he gets for the Caps’ crazy-good PP.
Tortorella pushed his horses almost to the finish line last year, and he gets them to run through walls, convinces them they’re not tired, as he did in his Cup year with Tampa.
He also had a meltdown of his own in that series in 2009 when he tossed a water bottle at a fan in D.C. and got himself suspended during the Rangers’ collapse.
He’s sure to be surly on the playoff stage, but the guy can coach.
PREDICTION: Capitals in six.