|The Caps must get in the head of Henrik Lundqvist early.|
Summary of Season Series: Ha. As if you need me to tell you how this went. The Capitals had by far their worst showing against any Eastern Conference opponent this year against the Rangers, going 1-2-1 and being outscored 18-6. Two of those games were absolutely brutal shutouts: one at Madison Square in mid December, 7-0, and one at Verizon Center in late February, 6-0. The other games were a 2-1 shootout loss in late January that the Rangers tied late in the game, and a 5-3 Caps win in early November that Matt Hendricks earned first star honors in.
By Positions: The Capitals' offense is deeper and more explosive that the Rangers', particularly now that New York will be without Ryan Callahan for probably the rest of the season. If Mike Green comes back healthy, the Caps also have a better defense corps that is six deep with NHL defensemen (when healthy). The only distinct advantage the Rangers have is in goal, where Henrik Lundqvist stands as a big Swedish pillar of denial. Which brings us to...
Key Player: Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers have ridden their all-world goalie all season and he is the reason that they are in the playoffs; he has started 26 consecutive games for New York. Lundqvist had another outstanding season, leading the league in shutouts and finishing in the top-ten in GAA, Save%, and wins. He has the ability to steal a series (like he almost did in '09). In order to beat him, the Caps have to get to him early and get in his grill often to disrupt his rhythm. Because if Henrik is lights-out...well, let's not go there.
Key Matchup: Marc Staal on Alex Ovechkin. The second of the four Staal brothers is as good as they come in terms of shutdown defensemen, and he had a breakout season this year to boot. The 24 year old has given Ovechkin fits his entire career, and you can bet your last dollar he will be on Ovechkin like white on rice all series long. If Ovie can get in his face and wear him down, he will have success. If he gets frustrated, Staal will have the advantage and Ovechkin's effectiveness with be limited.
Game one is Wednesday night at 7:30. What do you think the most important aspect of the series is?