Inside the Rangers-Capitals series
A look at some of the story lines from the first round playoff series between the Rangers and Capitals.
By Arthur Staple
SUPERSTAR WATCH: MARIAN GABORIK
Hardly the star scorer he was a year ago, Gaborik has been streaky, scoring 22 goals in his 62 games this season, but only scoring goals in 14 of those 62 (Rangers were 10-3-1 when he scored a goal). He hasn't had much jump down the stretch, with no goals in his last nine games, but he's still the only guy on the roster who can make plays all by himself. He'll have to do some of that to be a factor.
SUPERSTAR WATCH: ALEX OVECHKIN
His numbers were down this season — his 32 goals were 14 fewer than his previous career low. But, he's still the man in D.C. and still the Capital the Rangers have to account for, despite the low-goal total. He still had 11 game-winners, tying a career high. He's a goal-a-game player in the postseason, too, so he knows when it’s time to turn it on.
ROOKIE SPOTLIGHT: MICHAEL SAUER
He may be called upon, as he was earlier this season in Washington, to step up and try to shut down Alex Ovechkin. Whether it’s the Caps' star or anyone else's, Sauer has been arguably the Rangers' steadiest defenseman in his first season, plus he's added some timely offense in the final months. He and fellow rookie Ryan McDonagh could be a huge factor in whether the Rangers can keep Washington's talented forwards off the scoreboard.
ROOKIE SPOTLIGHT: JOHN CARLSON
A relatively low-profile, late-first round pick three years ago, the 21-year-old is as valuable to the Caps' defensive system as any of the Rangers' young blueliners are. With veterans Mike Green (concussion) and Dennis Wideman (leg) iffy, Carlson will be counted upon for major minutes and to withstand the physical play from the Rangers forwards. He's been excellent and durable this season. Keep an eye on him.
UNSUNG HERO POTENTIAL: BRIAN BOYLE
He had only three goals after All-Star weekend to put the brakes on a superb breakout season, but he can revive it with a big series. He'll be counted on to take faceoffs, block shots and perhaps get some power play time in Ryan Callahan's spot, so there's a chance for Boyle to provide the big goals he did early this season.
AND IN GOAL...: HENRIK LUNDQVIST
He's the real Rangers star, the only indispensable player on the team, and he’s already got four seasons of playoff experience behind him. He knows what it takes to get the Rangers wins this time of year and his 11 regular-season shutouts show he's been in better form than most thought after a slow start. He has played 26 straight games, but he still finished with fewer minutes in goal this season than he had since he was a rookie.
John Tortorella's crew has certainly bought what the coach has been selling this season, sacrificing personal stats and personal safety for big wins. This series is no different: The Rangers are not the more talented team, but history tells us the harder working team wins this time of year. Tortorella has the Rangers ahead on that score.