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Rangers need to stay out of penalty box against Capitals

Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto puts Pittsburgh Penguins

Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto puts Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik into the boards in the first period. (April 3, 2013) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Even with extra time to prepare for the Capitals, the Rangers aren't exactly thinking out of the box.

They are thinking about staying out of the box.

Every team talks about avoiding penalties. But if the Rangers are going to beat Washington in the first-round series that begins at the Verizon Center, they are going to have to avoid and also contain the Capitals' league-best power-play unit (26.8 percent).

The Rangers were 15th in the league in penalty killing (81.1 percent) during the regular season.

"They've got [defenseman Mike] Green back healthy, and it seems like they've got the same guys for the last six years, so they know what they're doing," defenseman Marc Staal said. "We've got to stay out of the box."

Obviously, the Rangers are going to focus on Alex Ovechkin, the NHL's top goal-scorer with 32 in this lockout-shortened season. But defenseman Michael Del Zotto knows the Rangers can't sleep on players such as Troy Brouwer (19 goals), Mike Ribeiro (49 points) and the surging Green (nine goals and nine assists in his last 15 games).

"Them getting Green back, him playing really well, that's another key -- shutting him down," Del Zotto said. "You look at their top six. They're probably arguably the top six in the game. They have a lot of offensive power up front and we know that one of the keys is staying out of the box and not allowing their power play, which is obviously probably the strength of their game."

How do they do that? It's simple and elegant, according to Del Zotto.

"We stick to our game," he said. "The strength of our game is our forecheck and playing below their hash marks. Their offensive players don't want to play down there so it kind of takes their strength out of their hands.

"It's a five-man unit when you play against those guys. As I said, if we get to the forecheck, we keep the puck in their end, it keeps the puck out of our end and doesn't allow them to play to their strengths."

Washington's No. 1 strength is Ovechkin. He scored 22 goals in his final 21 games; the Capitals went 15-2-2 in their last 19 games to capture the Southeast Division title.

"He shoots the pucks like crazy," said Staal, who practiced for the second straight day as he attempts to return from blurred vision in his right eye. "Every time he gets an opportunity around the net he rips it. And they've been going in for him. Someone has to be draped all over him in the [defensive] zone to try to make sure he doesn't get the opportunity to fire."

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