The Rangers and Washington Capitals will square off in the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years. While the jerseys, logos and arenas may be the same, these two squads are vastly different than the ones of years past.
“I’m not sure how much that matters because they’ve changed a lot over the years,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said after practice Monday when he was asked if the recent playoff series had any impact on this one. “We changed our team a little bit. It’s the same team name, but it’s a different look, especially when I look at them.”
Lundqvist, who went 1-0-1 against the Capitals this season while allowing just three goals, said the Capitals went from an offensive-minded team to a defense first style last season. This season, though, he said they’re “kind of a mix.”
On the Rangers side, just 14 players are still on the roster from last year’s team that defeated the Capitals in seven games. Of those 14, two include Marc Staal and Brian Boyle, who are currently injured.
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan echoed Lundqvist’s sentiments, and said that while the organizations meet often, it’s different teams each go around.
“The roster changes over; if you look at our roster five years ago, it’s a lot different,” he said. “You realize they’re a good team and playing so good in the month of April. They’re hot right now, so it’s going to be a tough matchup for sure.”
The Capitals finished the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 15-2-2 to capture another Southeast Division title. The Rangers, though, finished strong as well, going 10-3-1 in April to grab the No. 6 seed in the conference.
Dan Girardi, who said he wished the series began earlier than Thursday night in Washington, said he thinks the recent matchups give both teams a better sense of what to expect once the series is underway.
“For us, the way we match up it just happens that it’s been four of the last five against the same team,” he said. “It kind of seems to happen around the league, so I think both teams know each other really well.”
Head coach John Tortorella said the history between the two teams doesn’t change anything going into this year’s series.
“It’s who we’re playing,” Tortorella said. “That’s how we’re going to go about it. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve played them.”
Three out of Tortorella’s five playoff series as Rangers head coach have been against the Capitals. In 2009, the Blueshirts relinquished a 3-1 series lead and lost in seven games to the No. 1 seed Capitals. Two years later, the Rangers lost in five games, only to gain a bit of revenge last season when they defeated Washington in seven games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.