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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Rangers get another familiar foe: the Caps

New York Rangers left wing Tanner Glass and

New York Rangers left wing Tanner Glass and Washington Capitals defenseman Tim Gleason fight in the third period of an NHL game on Saturday, April 11, 2015, in Washington. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The best team in hockey, representing the biggest city in America, gathered here Tuesday to prepare for its second-round playoff series in a sea of relative tranquility.

Most had watched the previous night's game between the Islanders and Capitals, of course, because they are fans of the sport, and because they would be facing the winner.

The fact the winner was the Capitals thoroughly changed the dynamic when a modest-sized group of reporters entered the dressing room to talk to players about the matchup, the hype meter turned way down.

The Islanders' loss was a loss for the sport, for local talk radio hosts, for Twitter, for those who count website page views and for fans who enjoy good, old-fashioned springtime chaos.

But it might be a good thing for the Rangers, who now can go about the business of their nearly annual springtime meeting with the Caps minus a din of outside distractions.

So quickly had the hype over a Rangers-Islanders showdown dissipated that the Brooklyn-bound team's name barely was uttered after practice, other than when an annoying columnist for a Long Island-based newspaper hit key Rangers with what-if questions.

Might the Islanders' loss and the distractions they took with them be a positive, Henrik Lundqvist?

"Well, obviously, if we would have played them it would have been very special, I think," he said, "but also we've been playing Washington a couple of times in the playoffs and that creates something special as well."

Rick Nash chuckled when the question was posed to him.

"I mean, it definitely would have been crazy, but it's tough to comment on what could have happened or should have happened. Washington will be a tough opponent for us."

What about Ryan McDonagh, who as captain would have had added media and fan nuttiness to deal with?

When I suggested this might be a relatively normal playoff series now, he chuckled, too, and said, "I don't think there's really ever a normal playoff series. It's the Stanley Cup and you see some pretty intense hockey."

So, to sum up the thoughts of the Rangers' goaltender, leading scorer and captain on the hockey Armageddon that wasn't: shrug.

Fair enough. If they are moving on, the rest of us must, too. And truth be told, based on the way the banged-up Islanders looked in Game 7 the Capitals could well give the Rangers a better series.

At least they present a familiar challenge. Listening to the Rangers discuss strategies for Alex Ovechkin made it clear this series will be the continuation of a long struggle that has featured many playoff and regular-season encounters.

"There's really no secret," said Dan Girardi, who with McDonagh will have key Ovi duty.

The potential good news for the Rangers is that while the Islanders and Capitals were banging through seven games, the Rangers needed only five to dispatch the Penguins and will have had nearly a week off when Game 1 begins.

"Rest is tough to come by in the playoffs," McDonagh said. "At the same time you have to make sure you stay sharp. These guys have been playing games and you kind of get in a rhythm of game mode, and it's easy to continue that."

Capitals-Rangers could turn out to be a classic series full of intense, close games, maybe even one fun enough to cut through the clutter of baseball, the NBA playoffs, the Kentucky Derby and Pacquiao-Mayweather.

But it won't be as much fun as Islanders-Rangers could have been. Shrug if you must. But a sigh also is in order.

New York Sports