Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Round I: Caps vs. Rangers Series Preview

Ok, so we published the Game 1 Preview before the Series Preview. That's what you get for having such a quick turnaround from the end of the season to the start of the Playoffs...

Series B: Washington Capitals (50-32; 108 points; 1st Southeast Division, 2nd Eastern Conference, 4th Overall) vs. New York Rangers (43-39; 95 points; 4th Atlantic Division; 7th Eastern Conference, 12th Overall):

Meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 1994, the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers series will come down to the same thing just about every other series here in the first round does, the goaltending. But not in the way you would expect. Jose "Alvin, Simon," Theodore only simply needs to not be the reason the Caps lose this series and he has a good chance at doing that for a couple of reasons.

First of all who on the Rangers should the Caps target for shutting down offensively? Yeah, we’re stumped too. Chris Drury and Scott Gomez are decent targets, especially since Drury has a knack for scoring clutch goals. But the rest of the team? They don’t really scare you offensively. Secondly Theodore has not lost a first round series as a starting goaltender. With Rangers anemic offense, we can’t really see that changing and if it does, then we know we are in serious trouble.

Why? Well, us long suffering Caps fans are used to cheering for the type of team that the Rangers have right now. Great goaltending, good defense, and average to below average offense. It didn’t work very well for us in the 1990’s and early 2000’s against the likes of Lemiuex, Jagr, and the rest of the high powered Penguin Scum. Don't get us wrong, it helps greatly to have a good defense and great goaltending in the playoffs, but somebody has to score goals and even though those Caps teams had Peter Bondra, it just wasn’t enough. The Rangers don't have a Peter Bondra type on their roster, so where are their goals going to come from?

However, make no mistake, the Rangers could still win this series if Henrik Lundqvist can hold the Rangers in four games long enough for him to steal them and series. Lundqvist has shown that he can steal a game or two on his own. Can he steal four against the likes of A.O., Alexander "Slappy" Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei (#3) Fedorov, and Mike "BEAM ME UP" Green? Probably not, but a key for the Caps is to get to Lundqvist early in every game. They cannot start squeezing their sticks and trying to force shots against him. If they do, they’ll play into the Rangers hands.

So what can the Rangers do to win this series? Much is being made over Sean Avery getting under A.O. and Theodore’s skin. Well, we wish Mr. Avery luck. We happen to think that A.O. would enjoy a good round of smack talk and hope that NBC mics both players in Games 2 and 6. We would love to hear the uncensored feed. Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be much that get’s A.O. off his game. Play him physical and he plays physical right back and plays even harder than he normally does. Plus we don’t like the 5'10" 195 pound Avery’s chances against the 6'2" 220 pound A.O. should Avery try to confront A.O. physically. Three or four games of A.O. pounding on Avery and Avery will be looking for another target. Not to mention that the Caps have shown much better discipline in recent years in dealing with pests. Gone are the days when the Caps would spend a majority of the game chasing one player around the ice looking to exact revenge for something. These Caps get their revenge where it counts, on the scoreboard. That’s not to say that Avery can’t get a couple of players off their game. Maybe Theodore if he can convince him it is the second round, not the first. But certainly not A.O. though Slappy could be a ripe target for Avery.

But other than that, the Caps simply have too much for the Rangers to contend with. The only other hope is that Theodore completely melts down and Bruce Boudreau goes with the rookie Simeon Varlamov. We remember John Tortorella using psychological warfare when he coached the Ning against the Caps in 2003 when they fell behind in the series 2-0. However, none of the current Caps were around for the franchise's famous playoff failures. Resurrecting those ghosts will have little if any effect this time around. Though Tortorella is famous for head casing his goaltenders, will he get an early start on Lundqvist?

So unless, Lundqvist comes up large or the Rangers discover their own version of John Druce, we happen to think Caps in six though it really should be five if the Caps team defense was a little better.

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