Head coach Peter Laviolette of the Rangers looks on against...

Head coach Peter Laviolette of the Rangers looks on against the Islanders at UBS Arena on Tuesday, Apr. 9, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH — Peter Laviolette was ready for the question Thursday. He saw it coming a mile away, and parried it effortlessly.

The Rangers coach was asked about going up against his old team, the Washington Capitals, in the first round of the playoffs. Laviolette coached the Capitals for three seasons before parting ways with them last summer, and then taking the Rangers job. He wasn’t about to make the series about himself, though.

“I've coached a lot of teams,’’ he said while laughing after the team’s first practice since their playoff opponent was determined. “If this is the story, I mean, I'll have a story every round.’’

“I’ve got a lot of respect for the Capitals, and the organization, and players,’’ he said. “They've obviously done some good things to make the playoffs, our group's done some good things to make the playoffs. The game gets decided out on the ice.’’

Game 1 of the best-of-seven series between Laviolette’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers and the wild card Capitals will be Sunday at 3 p.m. at Madison Square Garden. It will be the first step of what the Rangers are hoping will be a two-month journey that ends with them lifting the Stanley Cup.

But first, they must get through a team that split four regular-season games with them this season, with each team scoring nine goals. The Rangers, who had big-time expectations last season, didn’t get through the first round then, falling to the Devils in seven games after blowing a 2-0 series lead. On Thursday, the players weren’t thinking of themselves as overwhelming favorites to win this series.

“We're not thinking who finished first, who finished last, who's the wild card, who's not,’’ said Artemi Panarin, the Rangers’ leading scorer. “The best teams are in the playoffs, so everyone is pretty similar, especially since playoff games are very tight – just couple of bounces [can decide] the series.’’

“I think the way we look at it is… it's a fresh start, it's a fresh season. And anyone can beat anyone,’’ defenseman Braden Schneider said. “We're not going to take them lightly; I know they're not going to take us lightly. So I think it's just the same mindset as if we were playing anyone. We're expecting a tough match. And I think we're going to be ready for that.’’

In addition to Laviolette coaching against his most recent team, the series also pits Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren against his brother,  goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who started 19 of Washington’s final 22 games and is expected to be in goal for Game 1.

Charlie Lindgren began the season as Washington’s backup goaltender, but over the course of the season, he eventually ascended into the No. 1 role. He started three of the four regular-season games against the Rangers, going 2-1 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .957 save percentage.

“It's pretty cool,’’ Ryan Lindgren said of playing a playoff series against his older brother. “Pretty weird. But, you know, it is what it is, and you just get ready for each game. I know the family's excited, but for us, it's going to just be business and see what happens.’’

Ryan Lindgren said normally he talks with his brother all the time during the season, but he admitted that communication is now on hold for the time being.

“I texted him after Tuesday (when Washington clinched a playoff spot with a win over Philadelphia), just saying ‘Congrats,’ or whatever, on making the playoffs,’’ Ryan Lindgren said. “And said, we'll talk to you after the series. So yeah, there won’t be any communication during (the series), but I'm sure we'll talk after, for sure.’’

Notes & quotes: Laviolette refused to say whether center Filip Chytil, who missed the final 72 games of the season with what is believed to be a concussion, is a possibility to return to the lineup for Game 1. Chytil has been practicing with the team since last week, taking part in full-contact drills. “I'm not going to talk about any players,’’ Laviolette said. “I'll probably (reveal) the goaltender, but we're not going to talk about lineups, or lines, or changes, or (any) of that… I don't see any need or reason to put that information out there.’’

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