In this post Inside Hockey writers Bob Kaplan and Alex Nseir offer their analysis and predictions for the first round matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.
First, Bob Kaplan engages in a heated debate with himself over who will prevail:
Right Side of Brain: The Capitals will win this series easily . . . The Caps are by far the hottest team in hockey, finishing the season on a 15-2-2 tear while racking up an amazing 32 out of 38 possible points in the process . . . During that run they outscored their opponents by 27 goals and vaulted themselves from being a playoff afterthought to the Southeast Division title and the third playoff seed . . . The Caps have the hottest player in the game right now in Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner and MVP candidate Alex Ovechkin, who scored an amazing 22 goals in his final 21 games . . . The Caps also have the NHL’s top scoring defenseman in Mike Green who finished the season with 12 goals, including 9 goals and 9 assists in his final 15 games . . . Aside from Ovechkin, the Caps have secondary scoring from their forwards in Troy Brouwer with 19 goals, Mike Ribeiro with 49 points and Nicklaus Backstrom with 48 points . . . The Caps core roster is playoff tested having made the playoffs 6 straight years and is one of only 3 teams to win a playoff series in each of the past two seasons. . . The Caps should not be intimidated playing a winner take all game 7, having played in 6 such games in the past 5 years . . . Coach Adam Oates’ attention to detail should translate to making key adjustments during a 7 game playoff series, something the team seemed to lack over the past few postseasons . . . The Caps boast the best power play in the game, converting on almost 27% of their chances . . . In the past four years the Caps have beaten the Rangers and their star goalie Henrik Lundqvist two of the three times they have faced them in the playoffs . . . The Caps will have home advantage in this series . . . In April goalie Braden Holtby has sported a 9-1 record to go along with a 2.16 GAA and .937 SVPCT.
Left Side of Brain: The Rangers will win this series easily. They have been hot as well, winning 10 of their past 14 games, giving up only 28 goals in the process . . . The Caps success this year has been deceiving, having won only 5 games against playoff teams and three of those were in shootouts . . . In addition, the Caps have feasted on lowly Southeast Division foes, running up a 15-3 record against the 4 teams in the division that didn’t qualify for the playoffs . . . Lundqvist finished 6th in the league this season in GAA, and 5th in SVPCT, far ahead of Holtby’s rankings of 25th and 12th in those categories . . . In the month of April Lunquvist sported a sparkling 12-2 record, along with a 1.76 GAA and .934 SVPCT . . . As hot as the Caps were down the stretch the Rangers top 4 scorers (Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash) actually outscored the Caps top 4 scorers (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Brouwer and Ribeiro) by 7 points in April . . . The Rangers won the season series with the Caps 2-0-1, outscoring the Caps by an 8-4 count . . . Ovechkin only had 2 points in those three games . . . The Rangers finished with the 4th fewest goals against in the league vs. the Caps ranking of 17th . . . Ovechkin’s 32 goals this season looks less impressive when you consider that 16 of them were on the power play and officials generally call less penalties in the playoffs . . . The Caps recent playoff streak seems less impressive when you consider that the Caps never got out of the second round and in fact lost 4 of the 6 game 7’s they played, 3 of which were at home in the Verizon Center . . . Adam Oates is a rookie at this playoff thing as a coach while Rangers coach John Tortorella has been there many times before.
Prediction: Caps in 7.
Next, Alex Nseir provides her thoughts on who has the advantage:
New York players to watch: Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, Rick Nash
Washington players to watch: Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, Braden Holtby
Analysis: Two of the teams no Eastern Conference squad wanted to face in round one will square off against each other when the playoffs start this week. For the fourth time in five postseasons and third year in a row, the Capitals and Rangers, two of the hotter teams during the final month of the regular season, will meet in a best-of-seven series. On paper, the Rangers are the better team. They underachieved for much of the year but have been on a roll and have a proven playoff coach in John Tortorella. Adam Oates is untested as a head coach in the post-season, but his long run as an assistant with the New Jersey Devils last year, which included a third-round series victory over the Blueshirts, should not be overlooked. The Rangers already own a strong defense, fourth in the league in goals allowed, but recently the team has been bolstered with more offense from guys like Brad Richards and Rick Nash. Conversely, the Capitals rank in the bottom half of the league in goals allowed (18th) and penalty kill percentage (27th). Washington’s lethal, number one power play won’t get as many chances in the playoffs, but Alexander Ovechkin is dangerous in all situations and there is no sign of him slowing down. Last year Braden Holtby proved he has the composure to go toe-to-toe with the best NHL goaltenders when he outdueled Tim Thomas in the first round. He won’t be intimidated by last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist. In addition, starting the series at home will be huge for the Capitals.
Potential game changer: Marc Staal. It’s a long shot that the imposing blueliner will return in the first round, but he says he has not ruled out the possibility. While no one is going to completely shut down AO, a healthy Staal, along with defenseman Dan Girardi, could certainly limit the offensive dynamo’s chances.
Final Verdict: This is a toss up and one series that is almost impossible to predict. In the end, Tortorella will know the right buttons to push and Lundqvist will get the better of Holtby. Rangers in 7.