The New York Rangers know exactly what to expect from the Washington Capitals in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It’s going to be physical, and it’s going to take another big defensive effort such as the one the Rangers got against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. This time around though, the task will be stopping Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
It is the fifth time since 2009 that the teams will meet in the playoffs. The Rangers eliminated Washington from the 2012 and 2013 playoffs – in Game 7 each time.
”There are always a lot of memories,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said, recalling a number of number of overtime games, including a 2-1 win in Game 3 in 2012 in three overtimes. ”We have played them a ton so definitely a team we are familiar with.”
The Rangers had their first full practice Tuesday in preparation for the series, working out for roughly an hour at their Westchester training facility.
Game 1 will be Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Capitals advanced Monday night, eliminating the Islanders in seven games, and keeping the Rangers away from a backyard series that was bound to have lots of local distractions.
It was a series that New York fans wanted. The Rangers insisted that they did not have a preference, although some admitted an Islanders’ matchup would have been interesting.
”I don’t think there is ever a normal playoff series in the Stanley Cup,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. ”You see some pretty intense hockey, tight-checking games and you never know what type of what kind of play will be the difference.”
The Rangers won three of their four regular-season games against the Capitals. The last three were played from March 11 on, with the last one being a 4-2 New York win in Washington on the final day of the regular season.
It temporarily denied Washington home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, but they got it when the Islanders lost in a shootout to Columbus later that night.
Most of the Rangers watched the Islanders-Capitals game on TV on Monday night and they were impressed with what they did on defense, limiting New York to 11 shots on goal.
The Rangers will enter the series coming off a big rest. They finished off the Penguins on Friday and then had three days to rest, even though most of the team took part in the optional skate on Monday.
The rest has allowed defenseman Kevin Klein to be ready to return to the lineup after sitting out since March 11 with a broken arm. Defenseman Keith Yandle was banged up in the Penguins’ series and he has not practiced since Game 2, although he has played in games.
Forward Mats Zuccarello is out indefinitely after being hit in the head with a shot by McDonagh on Friday night. Martin St. Louis will replace him on the line with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard.
While the rest was good, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist noted the Rangers overcame playing six games in nine days last season in reaching the Stanley Cup finals.
”I don’t think it is going to make a huge difference,” Lundqvist said. ”We just have to make sure we practice really well and have a lot of intensity when we are out there. Hopefully, play for a while, that’s our goal, then I think it is going to help us.”
McDonagh and defense partner Dan Girardi will draw the assignment on Ovechkin in the games at Madison Square Garden. That has been a constant for years.
”It’s pretty tough out there,” Girardi said. ”He is a pretty big guy and he plays hard, especially at this time of year. It really doesn’t matter who we are playing. It’s always tough on the top guys. It’s always hard to try to shut that down.
”We’ll do the best we can, but their second and third lines score goals, and the fourth line chips in. It’s a team we are going to have to be prepared every shift to beat. It will be physical.
”We have to make sure we’re ready for that and have some pushback and have some checks of our own. We have to play hard. There is no secret to the series. It will be a hard and physical series.”