Martin St. Louis and the Rangers prepare to battle Niklas Backstrom and the Capitals.
The 1994 Rangers beat the Washington Capitals in five games in the second round of the playoffs on their way to winning the franchise’s fourth – and most recent – Stanley Cup.
This year’s Blueshirts eclipsed the 1994 team’s records for wins and points in a regular season, but they’d welcome some postseason symmetry as they prepare to host the Caps in Game 1 of the second round on Thursday night at the Garden.
Washington never has won a Stanley Cup, coming closest when the Ron Wilson-led Caps finished runner-up to the repeat champion Detroit Red Wings in 1998. The Capitals have split the all-time postseason series with the Rangers, however, at four series apiece.
That includes wins for this Alex Ovechkin-led group in 2009 and 2011, before the Blueshirts exacted vengeance by eliminating Washington in both 2012 and 2013.
Alain Vigneault’s Rangers won this season’s series, 3-1, outscoring the Capitals, 13-10, in those four games. The Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins five games, while it took Washington seven games to eliminate the Islanders.
RANGERS BY THE NUMBERS
Only three Rangers – Tanner Glass, Jesper Fast and Matt Hunwick – did not record a point during their five-game, first-round series win over the Penguins. Derick Brassard led the way with a team-high three goals and was tied for the team lead with four points. Rick Nash (goal, three assists) and Ryan McDonagh (goal, three assists) were tied with Brassard.
Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan each had two goals and an assist in the first round, while Dan Girardi had three assists, led the team with a +4 plus-minus rating, and arguably was the team’s best all-around player.
CAPITALS BY THE NUMBERS
Nine different Capitals scored at least one goal in their seven-game series against the Islanders, compared to seven different Rangers goal scorers in five games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Niklas Backstrom (three goals, six points), Alex Ovechkin (two goals, five points) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (three goals, four points) are the players to watch entering the second round. Ovechkin now is nominated for his fourth career Hart Trophy as league MVP.
Game 1: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Capitals at Rangers, NBC-SN
Game 2: Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Capitals at Rangers, NBC
Game 3: Monday, 7:30 p.m., Rangers at Capitals, NBC-SN
Game 4: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Rangers at Capitals, NBC-SN
*Game 5: Friday, May 8, 7 p.m., Capitals at Rangers, NBC-SN
*Game 6: Sunday, May 10, TBD, Rangers at Capitals, TBD (likely NBC)
*Game 7: Wednesday, May 13, TBD, Capitals at Rangers, TBD
Martin St. Louis on playing with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard in the absence of Mats Zuccarello: “I’ll probably be playing more against top lines, more skilled players, but I’m used to that. I’ve done that my whole career. So my role’s not changing.” St. Louis added that while he’s “always been known as an offensive guy, you’ve got to play on other side of the puck and be reliable defensively, or it doesn’t matter.”
Brassard on the Capital’s league-best regular season power play: “We know we can’t take any bad penalties. They’re the No. 1 power play in the league. When you give Backstrom and Ovechkin some confidence on the power play, that’s how they’re gonna hurt you.”
Brassard on the Rangers’ 3-for-20 power play in the first round: “At this time of the year when you look at the stats, the penalty kill always has a little edge on the power plays. The guys are more desperate, they block more shots, and when you look at the past four Stanley Cup winners, their power play was not even that good. They weren’t even in the top five, I think. We just have to make sure that when we go on the ice we can’t get outworked, and we have to make sure we keep the momentum on our side. If we don’t score a goal, (we have to make sure) there are some scoring chances and (that) after the power play is over we’re ready to go five-on-five and momentum is on our side.”
RANGERS GAME 1 LINEUP
Forwards: Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Martin St. Louis, Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-J.T. Miller, Carl Hagelin-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast, James Sheppard-Dominic Moore-Tanner Glass
Defensemen: Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi, Marc Staal-Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle-Kevin Klein
Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist (Cam Talbot backup)
Healthy scratches: D Matt Hunwick, D Chris Summers
Injured: Mats Zuccarello (likely concussion, out indefinitely)
CAPITALS GAME 1 LINEUP
Forwards: Alex Ovechkin-Niklas Backstrom-Joel Ward, Marcus Johansson-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Jason Chimera, Andre Burakovsky-Jay Beagle-Troy Brouwer, Curtis Glencross-Brooks Laich-Tom Wilson
Defensemen: Brooks Orpik-John Carlson, Matt Niskanen-Karl Alzner, Tim Gleason-Mike Green
Starting goalie: Braden Holtby (Justin Peters backup)
Healthy scratches: F Michael Latta, D Dmitry Orlov
Injured: F Eric Fehr (upper-body, day-to-day)
HOW TO (TRY TO) CONTAIN ALEX OVECHKIN
In both teams’ April 11 regular season finale in Washington, there was a shift in which Alex Ovechkin buried Girardi near the Rangers’ offensive blue line. The puck went back down ice into the Rangers end, to the opposite corner. Girardi and Ovechkin battled for it. Girardi tried to throw a big retaliatory check and ended up on his butt again. They came back down through the neutral zone, and Ovechkin turned and gave Girardi a hard slash. Then as the puck went back into the offensive end, Ovechkin was standing at the blue line with his back to Girardi, and Girardi with his right glove pushed Ovechkin’s helmet over his eyes a couple times just to mess with him.
This is just one example of how Ovechkin constantly will seek to get under the Rangers’ skin, and how Girardi specifically is going to have to deal with it, shift after after.
In previous years, Ovechkin had been on the right wing, so he was one-on-one often with Ryan McDonagh. This year, however, he’s been more on left wing and so it’s been him and Girardi facing up more often. Here is how Girardi and McDonagh explained their tactics in trying to contain the Great Eight:
Girardi on how Ovechkin’s being on his side, versus McDonagh’s side, changes how he plays against him: “I think you have to be up in his face no matter what side he’s on. If he’s on Mac’s side, Mac’s gonna have to stay up a little bit more and I’m gonna have to come across the middle and make sure nothing’s going through there. We don’t want to give him too much time with the puck. 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. It’s a real heavy shot. So when he has the puck, we have to make sure we’re up in his face and taking his time and space away. it goes for him and it goes for (playing against) everybody (on the Capitals). We’ve got to just be on our toes and not sit back at all.”
McDonagh on the same question: “He (Ovechkin) likes to make that move where he carries it in and makes a move to his forehand. 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.
“He’s a world-class talent. He’s got plenty of ways to be effective out there. So like I’m sure ‘G’ said, it takes numbers. It takes back pressure from the forwards, which allows to try and stand up so he can’t gain that blue line first and foremost.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
McDonagh, 25, talking about the work ethic of Martin St. Louis. 39: “At his age, you see him staying out late at practice, going out early. Young guys see that. Middle-aged guys like myself see that – am I calling myself middle-aged now? (laughs).”
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