Rangers, Capitals familiar playoff foes
In the NHL playoffs, does familiarity breed contempt? We'll find out starting this week, when the Rangers meet the Capitals for the third consecutive year and fourth in the last five.
Some of the players -- and in the Caps' case, the men behind the bench -- have changed, but some of the principals remain, including the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, who led the league with 32 goals, and Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
"If we want to go all the way, we're going to have to play our absolute best," Lundqvist said. "We have the tools and we know we have a good enough team to do it. You're going to need some luck on the way. You've got to earn your luck by working hard and doing everything right."
As the No. 1 seed last spring, the Rangers won a tight seven-game series in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Capitals that included a triple-overtime win on Marian Gaborik's goal. In 2010-11, the Capitals eliminated the eighth-seeded Rangers in five games. Two of those games also went to overtime, and the Caps won both.
This season, the Rangers were 2-0-1 against the Capitals, who won the Southeast Division and finished third in the East, and outscored them 8-4. In the first game, at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 17, defenseman John Carlson scored just 1:19 in, but the Blueshirts fired 40 shots on Braden Holtby and Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan scored as the Rangers won, 2-1, with Lundqvist making 27 saves.
In Washington on March 10, the halfway point of the shortened season, Martin Biron allowed an early goal but the Rangers rallied for a 4-1 win. Stepan banked a shot off Holtby from behind the net, Brian Boyle's slapper provided a lead in the second, Ryan Callahan deflected Rick Nash's shot moments later, and Brad Richards tallied in the third period.
Two weeks later at the Garden, Nicklas Backstrom scored on the power play at 7:54 of the first and beat Lundqvist in the shootout for a 3-2 win. Ovechkin also scored for the Caps; Stepan's third against Washington and Arron Asham's first had tied the game.
But those games are gone and it's a different climate in the postseason. "No play is a small play. Every puck up and out of your zone is a good play," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "Every detail in the game is humongous."
Notes & quotes: Micheal Haley was recalled from the AHL and will make the trip to Washington. Haley, a former Islanders forward who was scoreless in nine Rangers games this season, was 10-13-23 in 69 games with the Whale and ranked 14th in the league with 170 penalty minutes . . . Nine other AHL players -- goalies Jason Missiaen and Cam Talbot, defensemen Stu Bickel and Dylan McIlrath and forwards Ryan Bourque, Brandon Mashinter, J.T. Miller, Brandon Segal and Christian Thomas -- will practice on a taxi squad . . . The Rangers are scheduled to practice Monday, then head south for the first two games of the best-of-seven series at Verizon Center.