The Rangers and Washington Capitals both finished the regular season as two of the hottest teams in the NHL. The Blueshirts were 10-3-1 in April, while the Capitals finished up their season 8-1-1 to upend the Winnipeg Jets to capture another Southeast Division title.
So it would make sense these two teams would meet in the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons — three of which in the conference quarter finals.
The Rangers took two of three meetings in the regular season, with the only loss coming in a shootout.
After their 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins, Capitals head coach Adam Oates praised his hockey team for their strong finish, but said qualifying for the playoffs is just the first goal.
“We’ve done some good things, no question,” he said. “We’ve come a long way [and] we have a long way to go … Let’s turn the page and prepare for the New York Rangers. That’s all we can do.”
While the two organizations have met frequently in the playoffs, these two teams may not know as much about their opponent as some may believe thanks to new faces on the Rangers and a new system for the Capitals.
Just 13 players from the Rangers team that defeated the Capitals in seven games during last season’s Eastern Conference Semi-Final are still with the organization; two of them — Marc Staal and Brian Boyle — are currently injured. In addition, forwards Ryane Clowe and Derick Brassard, along with defenseman John Moore, arrived in New York after the final meeting of the season between these two teams.
For the Capitals, gone is Dale Hunter’s defense first style and in is Oates’ up-tempo, offensive-minded gameplan. The Capitals finished tied for second in the Eastern Conference with 149 goals in 48 games; last season they were 10th in the conference with 222 tallies in a normal 82-game season.
“The teams are a lot different than they were last year,” said Karl Alzner, who compared New York’s play to that of the Bruins. “But like we’ve said also, we don’t care too much about the other team. We’re happy with what we’re doing. The Rangers will be tough to play. I think they’re built for the playoffs. If they can stay healthy they’re definitely a contender, I think.”
Forward Matt Hendricks, who appeared in the previous two playoff matchups with the Rangers, said he still believes the Capitals know what to expect from New York come Game 1.
“We’re pretty familiar with their style of play, especially their style of play in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s going to be a big test.”
Defenseman Mike Green, who has appeared in all four recent series against New York, said his team is prepared to play any team, including the Rangers.
“We can only control what we can control, that’s the way we play,” he said Saturday night. “It’s going to be a good series and we know what to expect. Familiarity might come into play a little bit, but we’ll see.”
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