No. 2 WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs. No. 7 NEW YORK RANGERS
CAPITALS: Viktor Kozlov, RW
The numbers tell the story for Kozlov’s postseason career: 21 games, zero goals. Granted, Kozlov collected three of his six career playoff assists while playing for the Caps last season, but he also was a minus-4 for the series against Philadelphia. Washington needs secondary scoring, and Kozlov needs to prove he can perform in the playoffs.
RANGERS: Ryan Callahan, RW
Despite all the big names on the Rangers’ roster, Callahan has led the new-look team in scoring. He has eight goals and 16 points since New York added Sean Avery, Nik Antropov and Derek Morris. On this offensively challenged club, Callahan finished the season tied for third on the team with 22 goals.
WHY THE CAPS WILL WIN
1. THE YOUNG GUNS
The Rangers are strong defensively, but it’s tough to imagine any opponent slowing down the quartet of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin. Maybe one or two of them have a tough series but not all four. It’s time for these players to prove the best young talent in the NHL resides in the District. Ovechkin and Backstrom will start the series together, but remember that Semin and Backstrom carried the team’s offense during the second half of the series against the Flyers last year once Bruce Boudreau paired them together.
2. JOSE THEODORE
His numbers haven’t been great this season. He has looked leaky at times. Whether he can carry a club beyond the second round remains in doubt. But Jose Theodore has never lost a first-round series. Four times his team has made the playoffs in his career, and four times said franchise has advanced past the quarterfinals. This is the first time he will be the favorite, but it’s tough to go against his career trend.
3. CROWDED PHONE BOOTH
Those 18,277 patrons at Verizon Center earned a lot of praise for their work during the postseason last year, and there’s no reason to think they won’t rock the arena Wednesday. Some people say there’s no home-ice advantage in playoff hockey, and the typical number of upsets supports that. But the Caps have been a different team on home ice this season. They sputtered a bit down the stretch, but when motivated, no Eastern Conference team played better at home.
WHY THE RANGERS WILL WIN
1. IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING
It’s harsh to say the Rangers’ chances rest completely on the broad shoulder pads of “King Henrik,” so let’s just say they almost completely do. Probably no other lower-seeded team in these playoffs believes it has a bigger advantage in goal than the Rangers. Lundqvist can be the great equalizer. He’s likely to steal a game or two in this series, and the Rangers hope he can steal four.
2. KILLING THE POWER
The Rangers can play with the Caps at even strength, and they can beat them at even strength. If that happens, it comes down to special teams. The Rangers rank 29th in the league on the power play, but they rank first in penalty killing. The Caps, meanwhile, can fall into the trap of relying on their power play too much. If the Rangers don’t take many penalties and slow the Washington power play, their chances to win improve exponentially.
3. STAAL-ING THE ALEXES
The Caps are deep and score lots of goals, but their secondary scoring also comes and goes without warning. Expect Marc Staal and his partner, Dan Girardi, to spend a lot of time on the ice with Ovechkin, and don’t be shocked if he does an admirable job slowing down the league’s leading goal scorer. It also will be interesting to see how Staal interacts with Alexander Semin, considering the “fight” they had earlier this season. If the Caps don’t get secondary scoring and Staal keeps Ovechkin from dominating, this series could get interesting.
• Corey Masisak can be reached at email@example.com.
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