Rangers will do their best to keep Alex Ovechkin on his backside during playoff series.
They took care of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the first round. Now the Rangers will have their hands full with a familiar foe in Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
When the Rangers and Capitals begin their second-round series Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, it will mark the fourth playoff series between the two in the last five years, and the fifth in the last seven.
While there are several players who have been through the most recent battles, there are only so many constants that date back to the 2008-09 first-round series, which Washington won in seven games. Ovechkin and Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi are two of those constants, and Girardi knows better than anyone what must be done to limit the impact of Ovechkin, who recently earned his fifth career Richard Trophy for leading the league with 53 goals during the regular season. It’s fitting for Ovechkin to win an award named in honor of Maurice (Rocket) Richard because of the blasts Ovechkin shoots every time he’s on the ice.
Just ask Kevin Klein. The Rangers defenseman, who’s expected to return for Game 1, has been out since March 11 with a broken left arm, an Ovechkin shot from the red line causing the fracture.
With Ovechkin primarily playing left wing this season, that means Girardi, the right top-pair defenseman, will be primarily responsible for the Caps star, although as several Rangers indicated it will take a collective effort to contain the Russian scoring machine.
Here’s their five-point plan, according to top-pair defensemen Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, on stopping Ovechkin:
1. UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
The Rangers want to make things as uncomfortable for Ovechkin as possible. “I think you have to be up in his face no matter what side he’s on,” Girardi said.
Limiting Ovechkin’s space and time on the puck is crucial, so composed aggression, without leaving Henrik Lundqvist vulnerable to potential open shots from other Capitals, will be key. “We’ve got to just be on our toes and not sit back at all,” Girardi said.
Even though Ovechkin will be mostly attacking Girardi’s side, McDonagh must assist Girardi in shifting toward the middle of the ice, limit Ovechkin’s shooting lanes and try to keep Ovechkin out of one-on-one situations. “When he gets wheeling, he’s good one-on-one, he’s got that great shot that can throw it right through you or throw it by you,” Girardi said. “It’s a real heavy shot.”(As Klein knows all too well.)
Knowing what Ovechkin’s got on his mind as he comes through the neutral zone. “He likes to make that move where he carries it in and makes a move to his forehand,” McDonagh said. “If anything, you want try and support Dan in the aspect of maybe trying to take that ice away from him. If there’s a two-on-two situation or a one-on-two situation, he likes to get ahead of his guy sometimes. So if I can recognize that and it’s kind of them two on an island, hopefully I can come over and kind of cut that ice out for him so maybe he’s forced to go to his backhand or shoot it before he makes that move.”
5. NUMBERS GAME
The defensemen will be able to do only so much by themselves. It will take the efforts of five guys to keep Ovechkin at bay over 60 minutes. “He’s a world-class talent,” McDonagh said. “He’s got plenty of ways to be effective out there. . . . It takes numbers. It takes back pressure from the forwards, which allows (the defensemen) to try and stand up so he can’t gain that blue line first and foremost.”
NOTES: Keith Yandle, who Alain Vigneault joked was out with the “sniffles,” will return to practice Wednesday. . . . Marc Staal (maintenance) returned to practice. . . . There was no update on Mats Zuccarello (upper body,) who is out indefinitely after taking a slap shot to the head on Friday.
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