Rangers center Matt Rempe and Capitals center Nic Dowd collide...

Rangers center Matt Rempe and Capitals center Nic Dowd collide during Game 1 of their NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH — The Washington Capitals, the last team to qualify for the NHL postseason, scored the fewest goals of any of the 16 playoff participants.

So in a first-round matchup against the Rangers, the team with the best record in the league, a pretty obvious first step for the Capitals would be to slow the game down and try to limit the total number of scoring chances and shots on goal.

Step 2 likely would involve playing with a high level of physicality. Hit often and hard. Maybe even take a few liberties after the whistle, if you have to. Do anything to annoy or maybe distract the opponent from focusing on making smart hockey plays.

But the Rangers were expecting all of that in Game 1 on Sunday and were able to keep their cool in a 4-1 victory that gave them a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Washington forward Tom Wilson dropped Mika Zibanejad to the ice with a couple of heavy hits in the second period, but the Rangers didn’t retaliate. And with a minute left in the third, Wilson engaged in a battle of crosschecks with defenseman Braden Schneider in front of the Rangers’ net that earned both players misconduct penalties.

Earlier in the third, after Matt Rempe fired a shot at Capitals goalie Charlie Lindgren, Washington defenseman Dylan McIlrath bumped into the rookie after the whistle. But with the Rangers ahead 3-1 at the time, Rempe backed away and refused to engage.

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette wrote all of that off as part of the physical nature of the postseason.

“It’s hockey,’’ Laviolette said Monday as the Rangers held meetings and a practice for their extra players. “Tom’s a physical guy, Remp’s a physical guy, and he’s gonna be banging out there . . . They’ve got guys [like] McIlrath . . . that play physical. And that’s playoff hockey.’’

“I think you can look at every series . . . Game 1 has been a physical game. It’s a playoff game,’’ said Rangers defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who played for Washington last season. “I don’t know, I like it. It gets me fired up, too.’’

The Rangers more than matched Washington’s physicality Sunday. They actually outhit the Capitals 33-21.

And after a low-event first period in which they outshot the Capitals 7-4, the Rangers took control of the game with three goals in a two-minute, six-second span early in the second.

Rempe, who became an instant fan favorite when he began his NHL career at MetLife Stadium with a fight with the Islanders’ Matt Martin on his first shift, started the three-goal outburst on Sunday by scoring his first career playoff goal. And if that annoyed the Capitals, the 21-year-old’s discipline in not getting drawn into a meaningless fight probably annoyed them even more.

“Up [3-1], you know what [Rempe] can do on the ice too, and I think he managed it well,’’ Gustafsson said. “He had a hell of a game. I like his physicality. He’s been showing that ever since he came up.’’

“With regard to Remp, we talk to him. He has a plan every game,’’ Laviolette said. “And you know, I think that at the end of the day, you want to play fast, you want to play physical. You want to play the game the right way and like the work that you did at the end of the night. But if you’re undisciplined, there’s a good chance you’ll lose. And so, you have to walk that line. That’s a fine line to walk.’’

In Game 1, the Rangers walked it expertly.

More Rangers


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months