- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2011

SUNRISE, Fla. | Even in a season that has featured its share of ups and downs, two scores stick out for the Capitals - 7-0 and 6-0. Both are losses, and both came at the hands of the New York Rangers.

“We definitely need a little bit of redemption against those guys,” defenseman Karl Alzner said.

They’ll get the chance as they open the playoffs Wednesday, though as fresh as those memories are the Caps understand they have a much different team than the one that got blasted both at home and on the road by New York.

When those two defeats happened, Jason Arnott was still with the Devils, Dennis Wideman with the Panthers and Marco Sturm with the Kings. And while the injured Wideman won’t be available to face the Rangers, the Caps as a group have improved and changed in recent months - thanks to a defensive style coach Bruce Boudreau implemented while they were struggling.

“It’s completely different. They got us kind of in the middle of the transition to the game that we’re playing now,” Alzner said. “It’s tough to take anything away from them - they’ve played great hockey against us and we just couldn’t hang with them at that time. But hopefully it’ll be a different story now. We got that team that we wanted to have.”

This new team is the top seed in the Eastern Conference, thanks to a 15-3-1 finish to the regular season. But as Boudreau has said, the playoffs are a “different animal” - and that means setting aside the Dec. 12 and Feb. 5 losses to the Rangers.

“We’ve had trouble against the Rangers,” Boudreau admitted, “but it’s a different season for both of us, and they’re pumped that they’re in and we want to get ready to play.”

Itching to get back into playoff hockey brings up another source of redemption that may be more powerful than wanting to get revenge for the Rangers winning a couple of regular-season blowouts. That has more to do with last year’s first-round exit when the top-seeded and heavily favored Caps bowed out to the Montreal Canadiens.

Now, 50 weeks later, the Caps are motivated by wanting to cleanse themselves of that first-round failure.

“I think we’re a different team than we were a year ago. We’re a better team, we’re more experienced, we have some more veteran guys in our lineup,” veteran winger Mike Knuble said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how we’re gonna do. I don’t think it’s gonna be cross your fingers and hope for the best; I think we’re gonna be very methodical and very hard to play against.”

But the Rangers will be, too. New York likes to impose its physical style on opponents; the Caps figured that out four times this season while going just 1-2-1. And while playing that kind of hockey for potentially seven games can be demanding, it might be just what the Caps need.

“I like those kind of games,” forward Matt Bradley said. “To start off [the playoffs] against a team like that and have a physical series I think is the best way to go because you jump right into it, and you got to be ready.”

With all sorts of redemption on their minds, the Caps have never seemed more ready.

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