When the Rangers and Capitals meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this week and next, there will be several subplots that contribute to the outcome.
With that in mind, here is an inside look at the three games played between the two teams this season:
Feb. 17 at Madison Square Garden
Rangers 2, Capitals 1
Pre-game hype: Before the game, Caps goalie Braden Holtby was asked about the sting of losing to the Rangers in Game 7 of the 2012 conference semifinals. “I felt it all year, actually. It was a great series. The way we played, blocking shots, the energy in the buildings. But what I remember most is losing there. We’ve got to make sure we do better.”
Battling systems: Adam Oates addressing the differences between his puck possession system and John Tortorella’s counter-attacking, shot-blocking style:
“That’s the system he plays and he has his reasons for it,” Oates said. “It kind of doesn’t matter to me. We’re going to play the way we play.”
Tortorella on how he expects the Caps to look under Oates compared to Dale Hunter: “I have no idea. I don’t care about Washington. I care about our club. I’m not worried about the Capitals’ coaches, players or anything else.”
Game in a nutshell: Derek Stepan breaks a 1-1 tie seven seconds after Karl Alzner takes a tripping penalty to give the Rangers the win. Braden Holtby is sensational in stopping 38 of 40 shots, including eight by Rick Nash.
“He’s a good goalie,” says Nash, who was stopped eight times by Holtby. “He comes out and challenges you pretty good. Really, during the whole game, he was pretty effective.”
Worth noting: The Rangers did almost everything better than the Caps, outshooting them 40-28, outhitting them 34-22, killing off four power plays and going 1-for-5 on the power play. Including shots that were blocked or missed the net, the Rangers had 69 attempts at the net, compared to 51 for the Caps.
Captain vs. captain: Caps captain Alex Ovechkin and Rangers captain Ryan Callahan went jaw-to-jaw a few times, renewing their rivalry from last spring.
March 10 at Verizon Center
Rangers 4, Capitals 1
Pregame hype: Before the game, Ovechkin tells reporters the Caps deserve more respect from the referees, noting Mike Ribeiro’s double-minor and against the Islanders the day before that led to the game-winning power play goal. “Of course some refs don’t like some personalities on our team, but you have to respect us,” Ovechkin said. “We’re emotional, we’re in the game … they have to give us a break.”
Game in a nutshell: With the teams locked in a 1-1 tie, back-to-back penalties to Alex Ovechkin on one fateful shift lead to two power-play goals by the Rangers. “To be honest, I know I tripped [Ryan Callahan] on the first one because I lost position,” Ovechkin said, “but I don’t know about the second one. Four minutes on one play, I don’t know.” It is worth noting that the same referee who called Ribeiro for high sticking and unsportsmanlike conduct on Saturday, Dean Morton, also gave Ovechkin his two penalties on the same play.
Holtby yanked: Oates pulled Holtby after he allowed two goals on 18 shots, replacing him with Michal Neuvirth, who allowed one goal on 11 shots. “My mind says I want to finish every game,” Holtby said. “If that’s in the coach’s best interests to do it I respect his decision. But I like to battle through every challenge.”
March 24 at Madison Square Garden
Capitals 3, Rangers 2
Pregame hype: The Capitals were facing the Rangers for the first time with Brooks Laich and Mike Green in the lineup. Ovechkin was looking for his first goal against the Rangers after being limited to no goals on 11 shots and a minus-2 rating. [In last year’s playoff series against New York Ovechkin had three goals, one assist, 22 shots and was a minus-3 in seven games.]
Game in a nutshell: The Caps extended their winning streak to three games and concluded their crucial four-game road trip with a 3-1-0 record. Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin each scored in regulation, then beat Henrik Lundquist again in the shootout to give the Caps a hard-fought two points. "We're still humble,” Laich said. “We're not gonna hurt our arms patting ourselves on the back by any means."