New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren (55) hits Philadelphia Flyers...

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren (55) hits Philadelphia Flyers right wing Garnet Hathaway (19) in front of Rangers goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) during the second period at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY, on Thursday, Apr 11, 2024. Credit: Brad Penner

The Rangers (55-23-4, 114 points), who won the Presidents’ Trophy, will open their playoff series against the wild-card Capitals (40-31-11, 91 points) at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. It is the first time the teams have met in the playoffs since 2015, but there are many storylines, beginning with Rangers coach Peter Laviolette going up against the team he coached last season.

Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren will go against his older brother, Capitals goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Capitals forward Sonny Milano, a Massapequa native, could find himself on the ice against Rangers defenseman Adam Fox, who is from Jericho. That would be neat, too.

Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin and his defense will stare down Washington sniper Alexander Ovechkin, the No. 2 goal-scorer in NHL history, and then there is the matter of Capitals ruffian Tom Wilson, Public Enemy No. 1 at the Garden.

Here are five keys to Rangers-Capitals:  


Washington’s minus-37 goal differential is by far the worst of any playoff team (the Rangers are plus-53), and Dylan Strome, the Capitals’ leading scorer, had 67 points, which would be sixth on the Rangers. On paper, this series shouldn’t last long.  


Washington doesn’t score a lot. The Capitals’ 220 goals were 28th-most in the 32-team league, so they’re looking to play tight, low-event, low-scoring games. The Rangers aren’t the run-and-gun Oilers of the ’80s, but they do have some speed and they can score (their 282 goals were sixth-most in the league in the regular season). They’ll likely want to speed the game up against the aging Capitals.  


He’s got 853 career goals, 41 behind Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record, but he’s 38 now, and his 31 goals this season were the fewest he’s scored in a single year (other than the COVID-shortened 56-game season in 2021). The Rangers certainly will need to account for the Great 8, but they shouldn’t have to go overboard in trying to shut him down.  


The critics point to the Rangers’ relative mediocrity in five-on-five play, but their power play, which struggled down the stretch before perking up at the very end, makes up for that. They were third overall in the league in the regular season with a 26.4% success rate. Washington’s penalty kill was 19th- best with a 79% kill rate. The Rangers’ penalty kill also was third in the league (84.5%) and Washington’s power play was 18th (20.6%).  


Center Filip Chytil, ruled out for the season by the Rangers in January, has been practicing with the team for a week now in a full-contact jersey, and right wing Blake Wheeler, who suffered a serious leg injury in February, has begun skating. Chytil could be back soon, and Wheeler theoretically could be available later in the playoffs. So if there are injuries, or in the event of adversity, the Rangers are positioned to have reinforcements at their disposal.


Rangers: Artemi Panarin

The Blueshirts’ leading scorer (by 43 points) was a veritable no-show in the Rangers’ seven-game, first-round playoff loss to the Devils a year ago. He shaved his curly locks last summer and showed up to training camp bald, a sign he wanted this year to be different. Then he recorded 49 goals and 120 points, easily surpassing his previous career highs. He’ll need to produce in the playoffs, though, or it won’t matter.

Capitals: Charlie Lindgren

He was supposed to be Washington’s backup goalie this season, but he ascended to the No. 1 spot and went 25-16-7 with a 2.67 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and six shutouts. He was 2-1 with a 1.35 GAA and .955 save percentage against the Rangers in the regular season, and he’s a lefty, meaning he holds the goal stick in his left hand and wears the catching glove on his right hand. That could throw off the Rangers’ shooters.



Rangers in 4. The Blueshirts were the first team to clinch a playoff spot and the Capitals were the last. Honestly, the thought before the season began was that Washington wasn’t supposed to make the playoffs. The Rangers are the better team, and they’re hungry after last season’s first-round exit. They won’t mess around here.


Rangers in 4. This Rangers-Capitals playoff rivalry is starting to get old, like Ovechkin. The road to 16 victories will not be easy for the Blueshirts, but the first quarter of their journey will be.

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