Rangers: Rangers head coach John Tortorella is convinced that the team saved its season by adding depth through the middle of its group of forwards with the signing of Mats Zuccarello and the acquisitions of Derick Brassard and Ryane Clowe. That depth has spread the offesnive contributions throughout the lineup as the Rangers now boast three lines that can be counted on to score, while also playing responsible defensively. Both Derek Stepan (team-high 44 points, including 19 in the month of April) and Brad Richards (six-game point streak to close out the season) enter the post-season playing their best hockey, and Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider, and Taylor Pyatt all stepped up their play down the stretch following injuries suffered by Clowe and Brian Boyle. Of course all eyes will be on Rick Nash, who despite a phenomenal resume has appeared in only four career post-season games. The pressure on him will be major, but he delievred for Canada during the Vancouver Olympics and seems to have the personality suited for succeeding under the white hot spotlight. Nash led the Rangers with 21 goals---his ninth straight season of 20+ goals. Nash will have to stand out, Stepan will need to carry his success into the post-season---where he has just one career playoff goal, Hagelin needs to be an energizing force---and needs to score, he was without a goal in 17 playoff games last spring, Brassard needs to prove that he can handle the post-season pressure in what is his first NHL playoff, and Richards must be the big-game performer he was last spring---and has been throughout his NHL career. Combatting the Caps size will be a tough task with Clowe and Boyle still missing from the lineup.
Capitals: When you talk about Washington's group of forwards, the conversation must begin with Alex Ovechkin, who is playing at an all-world level. Ovechkin claimed another Rocket Richard Trophy, leading the NHL with 32 goals in 48 games, including an incredible 23 goals in the final 23 games of the regular season. Set free under new coach Adam Oates, Ovechkin is again the game's most dangerous player after former coach Dale Hunter limited his minutes and asked Ovi to play a more defensive game against the Rangers last spring. The Capitals are not just about Ovechkin up front, though. Washington has a tough-to-handle group of forwards that features skill---Nicklas Backstrom (a former 101-point player, who was third in the league with 40 assists this year), Mike Ribeiro (second on the team with 49 points), and Marcus Johansson (22 points in 34 games)---and size/grit, featuring the likes of Troy Brouwer, Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, who looks like he will return from injury in time for Game One on Thursday. The Caps can grind things out and also explode offensively, making them extremely difficult to play against, as evidenced by the fact that they ranked fourth in the NHL in goals scored this season.