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Capitals-Rangers Playoff Predictions

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Welcome to the Capital Games Playoff Prognostication Center, where we crunch the numbers, analyze the video, contact the scouts -- and then get sleepy and ask smart people what they think instead.

    We once again turn to the guys and gals we run into frequently in the press box, the locker room and the local watering holes for their thoughts on the Washington Capitals' second-round series against the New York Rangers.

    If you were keeping track at home in Round One, you know that only one entry correctly picked the Capitals to beat the Bruins in seven games.  That honor goes to the marvelous team over at On Frozen Blog.  Congrats, Elisabeth Meinecke, the canned ham is in the mail.

    So it's on to Round 2.  Here's the rundown of how some of the local and national experts (minus Sean Leahy) see the Capitals-Rangers series playing out, starting with our first-round winners:

     

    The On Frozen Blog Team

    Elisabeth Meinecke and John Keeley

    (OnFrozenBlog.com; @onfrozenblog)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    Could payback be a b*tch? The Capitals have handled the Rangers in the postseason in two of the past three seasons, but this season's edition of Blueshirts is by far the best the Caps have faced.

    The Rangers are a committed army of courageous and indefatigable shotblockers and lane-cloggers. Finding time and space was tough for the Capitals in Round One versus Boston; it will be even tougher in this series.

    This Rangers club, we think, will be hell-bent on preventing a third consecutive postseason loss to the Caps. They do not possess firepower, beyond Marian Gaborik (41 goals), but they do play a postseason-prospering brand of tough-puck.

    Again, seemingly, the advantage in net will belong to the opposition -- Henrik Lundqvist actually had a better season than Tim Thomas, and is a serious candidate to win both the Vezina and Hart trophies this season. He is a game-changing force in the prime of his career. But sometimes youth is served in net in the NHL postseason, and Braden Holtby is staking a serious claim to be included in that legacy.

    The Rangers are shotblocking kings; the Capitals under Dale Hunter have embraced shotbocking as a means to strengthen their roster's defensive vulnerabilities. Hopefully you find voluminous shotblocking an art form, cause you're gonna see a lot of it in this series.

    Matchup To Watch:

    Rangers PP vs. Caps PK. The Blueshirts were just 23rd in the league with the extra man during the regular season. PP production has been an enduring weak spot for this club. The Caps meanwhile shut down the Bs' vaunted PP extremely well in Round One, surrendering just two goals in 21 kills. If the Caps win this aspect of special teams, they have a real good chance of advancing, we think.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    Last postseason, it was Dan Girardi, one of the NHL's premiere shotblockers. He might have been the best performer in that series. But this season, the Rangers have not one, not two, but three bona fide No.1 D-men -- Girardi, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh (team best +25 during the regular season).

    McDonagh has been so good that he's bumped Staal down into the second blueline pairing. Must be nice. John Tortorella's blueline boasts perhaps the best top 4 in all of hockey, so he won't necessarily have to match one line against Alexander Ovechkin like Claude Julien had to with Chara and Seidenberg.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    Scoring again should be low in this series, so there ought to be a slim margin of error for these guys. But unlike last series, where we thought Braden Holtby had to outplay Tim Thomas for the Caps to triumph (which he did), in this series, because New York brings a good deal less offensive firepower, we don't think Holtby necessarily has to stand on his head for the Caps to prevail. But he has to be good.

    Conversely, Henrik Lundqvist *must* be on form for the Rangers to pull out the victory. He was good against Ottawa in Round One, and lucky for New York that he was; the Senators nearly sent the No. 1 seed off to a shockingly early set of tee times.

    Really? Please explain:

    See: Caps, Round 1, vs. Boston Bruins. Also, when Holtby starts to look a little off, a little jolted by the big moment, this team really seems to step up and coalesce around him. Not that they wouldn't do it for Neuvirth or Vokoun, but Holtby's calming influence -- the words Brooks Laich used -- has hit a nerve with them.

    Special hockey clubs in spring often seem to have a special chemistry between skaters and netminder, a bit of a swagger. This Capitals club seems to have just that swagger. Finally, the Caps are doing a good job not allowing offenses to get good looks, so the shots on goal total isn't as bad in reality as it looks on paper.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    If it is someone else, it may well be John Carlson, who despite not looking his top form during much of the regular season, looks like a difference-maker this postseason, and also potted a couple of goals against the Rangers this season.

    Carlson likes big stages, and few in hockey are as large as MSG in the postseason.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    Dale Hunter brings a calm, confident demeanor to the Capitals bench that is unlike anything we've seen here in decades. Meanwhile, back in the room, it's clear he has his charges' full attention, and is garnering great buy-in from everyone.

    Something special clearly came from his address to the team prior to the start of overtime in Game 7 on Wednesday night. A number of Capitals players indicated that they thought he actually wanted to suit up. Imagine. Cohesion and confidence are perhaps the greatest currencies a hockey team can possess in the postseason, and this Capitals team may finally have them.

    John Tortorella approaches bench management in a much different fashion. But with him you always wonder: when will his fiery fuse finally burn out?

    X-Factor (Who or what you think the difference will be in the series):

    Karma and coaching. The Capitals this spring look conspicuously comfortable bearing the title of underdog, while the heavy favorite Rangers did not against Ottawa. A loose and confident and fun-loving bunch of Caps, inspired too by their upstart rookie netminder, may be perfectly positioned to pull off another upset.

    John Tortorella went into the season thinking he would limit Lunqvist's games to the amount and workload of previous Stanley Cup champion goalies, so this portion of the calendar represents the birth of his nine-month experiment.

    Meanwhile, Dale Hunter got thrown into Capitals chaos back in November and hasn't had the luxury of thinking much past the next game. Both teams are rightly credited for responding well to the teaching and preaching of these two coaches. In what ought to be another excruciatingly close series, the team skating with less pressure might be the best pick.

    Series Prediction:

    Caps in 6.

     

    Adam Vingan, Capital Games writer and Kings of Leonsis co-founder

    (KingsofLeonsis.com, @Adam_KOL)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    New York, New York. That is not an homage to Frank Sinatra, but me expressing my incredulousness that the Caps and Rangers are meeting once again in the postseason (the third time in four years, to be exact).

    Both teams survived Game 7s, but this time, the roles are reversed as the Rangers are the top seed in the Eastern Conference after facing the Caps as a seventh and eighth seed in the past.

    Familiarity breeds contempt, so this should be another physical series.

    Matchup To Watch:

    Shot blocking. The Caps did a tremendous job blocking the Boston Bruins' shot throughout their first-round series, which may have come as a shock to Caps fans who are not used to their favorite players sacrificing themselves like that.

    Meanwhile, the Rangers have always been a great shot-blocking team; they possess two of the NHL's top 10 shot blockers from the regular season in Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. Five of the top nine shot blockers during the playoffs so far are on both of these teams, while they combined for 294 in the first round, with the Rangers leading the NHL with 155 and the Caps in second with 139. The shot totals in these games could be very small.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    It'll be a two-headed monster of Marc Staal and Girardi, who are two of the league's premier shutdown defensemen. Alex Ovechkin has had success against both of them, so it'll be interesting to see if the Rangers throw anything different at Ovi.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    It could definitely happen.

    Really? Please explain:

    So you weren't expecting anybody to say no? Anyway, Holtby just outplayed the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies winner from last season. Lundqvist is a Vezina and Hart trophies candidate this season. Lundqvist has struggled against the Caps in the postseason, so even the "King" can be usurped.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    Alex Semin. Semin has, for lack of a better term, owned the Rangers in the postseason.He had five goals in seven games in 2009 and three in five last season. Semin showed some flashes of brilliance against the Bruins, which spells trouble for the Rangers.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    Zero, though a water bottle might come into play.

    X-Factor:

    Marian Gaborik. The Rangers' leading scorer with 41 goals this season has never been one to step up in the postseason. He had one goal and two points in five games against the Caps last spring and only has 14 goals in 41 career playoff games. If he fails to show up against the Caps, the Rangers will not succeed.

    Series Prediction: 

    The Caps will do what they've done for three of the last four years:get rid of the Rangers. Caps in 6.

     

    Jeff Kleiman, Capitals Outsider

    (CapitalsOutsider.com; @j_dizzle_caps)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:  

    Huh, what did you ask? I apologize, the crunchiness from the crow that I am still eating from saying the Bruins would beat the Capitals in seven games completely drowned out the question. 

    Oh, thoughts on the series. Well, doesn't this seem like deja vú to everyone? Is there a rule that I wasn't aware of that says if the Rangers and the Capitals both make the playoffs they have to face each other? As someone who was born, raised, and currently resides in New York, this series has a little bit more meaning to me. I've heard all season about how the Capitals are such a horrible team, how the Rangers will now once again dominate the ice, and that the Capitals shouldn't even share the same rink as them. Then, I remind those Rangers fans what happened the last time the Capitals faced them in the playoffs and all of a sudden it gets surprisingly quiet. Who would've thought, huh?

    This isn't to detract anything from the Rangers. They do have Vezina Trophy finalist Henrik Lundqvist, an outstanding top defensive pairing in Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, and an outstanding sniper in Marian Gaborik who can score at will. (Speaking of which, has anyone seen him this postseason? I could've sworn I've seen him lost in the woods along with Ilya Bryzgalov. Can someone please let me know when he shows up to play? Thanks!)

    The Capitals, however, shocked the hockey world by beating the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in seven games. They looked like a team possessed with some solid forechecking, shot blocking, and with the ability to step up physically and hang in with arguably the most physical team in the National Hockey League. And how about Braden Holtby? He comes in with zero playoff experience and shows up the reigning Conn Smythe winner. He is going to need that type of performance again in order for the Caps to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Matchup To Watch:

    Rangers fans vs Capitals fans. In their last playoff matchup it was all about which fan base was louder. The media picks up on it and the story took everyone by storm. So much so, in fact, that the Rangers forgot that they still had hockey to play. Oh, I kid. But in all seriousness, how many of you have been to a game at Madison Square Garden? Rangers fans are some of the most abusive in the league and will do everything in their power to distract the Capitals from doing what they have to do in their building. When the Rangers come down to the Verizon Center, it will all fall on Caps Nation to yell, scream, and do whatever it takes to give the Capitals as much home-ice advantage as possible. If Caps fans came up to New York to invade the Garden, I would actually encourage it (just like the British Army invaded the colonies, eh Jack Edwards?)

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    [Rangers GM] Glen Sather and John Tortorella can't convince Brian Leetch to come out of retirement, right? I mean, I just saw him on the MSG Network the other night and he looked like he still has some gas in the tank. It would give them their best chance to slow down Ovi. How about Jeff Beukeboom? No to both, huh? Well, that doesn't bode well for the Rangers. I guess they're going to have to stick Dan Girardi on him. He's a really good defenseman who averaged 26:14 of ice time in the regular season. While his offensive consistency is something left to be desired, he did register 5 goals and 29 points. This postseason he is on a tear, with one goal and four points against the Ottawa Senators in the first round. He does have great shot blocking ability and will try to force Ovi to shoot from the point, which would reduce the number of shots Lundqvist sees coming in his direction. Girardi is used in all situations (even-strength, penalty kill, and even on the power play) and is the guy Torts depends on to hold down the blue line.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    No, I don't think so.

    Really? Please explain:

    Because in my last prediction I said that Thomas would outplay Holtby and we all saw what the end result was. I'm superstitious like that and I am willing to take one for the team if I have to.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    I think it will be Semin. There is a serious drop-off when it comes to the quality of competition that the top defensive pairing for the Rangers sees and what the other pairing usually see. This isn't to say that Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are going to hold Ovi pointless, because they would only be able to do that if they played NHL 12. However, Semin is going to have an easier time having to deal with a blue line of Marc Staal (who really hasn't been the same since coming back from a concussion) and Michael Del Zotto. And don't be surprised if the top goal scorer for the Caps come from the bottom six either, because the rest of the Rangers defensemen (Stralman, Bickel, Eminger, Scott, and Woywitka) have been about as effective as the Redskins passing game was last season.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider "Turgeon-ing" Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    None. Why would he need to do that when there are fans willing to dump $10 beers on him while he's behind the visitors bench at the Verizon Center?

    X-Factor:

    Braden Holtby. Honestly, I don't know if there is anyone who can say otherwise. The Capitals are going to go as far in these playoffs as he allows them. If Holtby suddenly starts hiccuping and lets soft goals get past him, then the Capitals aren't going anywhere past this round. If he can come up with another huge series like he did against Boston, there's nothing stopping them.

    Another key to look at is the amount of blocked shots the Capitals have. If the Caps are being forced to block too many shots, it's a great indication that they are spending way too much time in their defensive zone. They must force the Rangers to not cycle the puck in their zone like Boston did in their series. If the amount of blocked shots starts trending as high as it did last round and even higher than that, Dale Hunter is going to need to find a way to trigger his defense to clear the puck out of their zone quicker.

    Series Prediction:

    Capitals in 6. See everyone again in the Eastern Conference Finals!

     

    Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DistrictSportsPage.com

    (DistrictSportsPage.com; @DaveNicholsDSP)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    Though they were the No. 1 seed, the Rangers don't particularly impress me. I think they'll be content to play much like the Caps-Bruins did in the first series, packing it in on defense and counter-attacking on offense.

    Matchup To Watch:

    Braden Holtby against himself. He was solid-to-spectacular in the first series, but his biggest challenge is still against himself. A couple of the goals he allowed the Bruins were of the concentration variety. He's got a great glove but is careless with it at times.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    Either Marc Staal or Dan Girardi. But neither are as big, tough and mean as Zdeno Chara. Ovi should find some running room in this series.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    No.

    Really? Please explain:

    But he only has to play within himself.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    I'm going with "someone else." I think both Russians will contribute, but we're seeing Hunter reduce ice time for both players once a lead is secure. Expect more of the same.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    Hey now! Hunter is remarkably composed behind the bench. If you didn't know it was the same guy, you'd have no idea what Hunter the player was like. Torts just likes the sound of his own voice.

    X-Factor:

    Will the Rangers find any offense an change the complexion of the series? Teams used to want to avoid a track meet with the Caps, but that might be the best way to beat them now.

    Series Prediction:

    Caps in 7. Did I really just say that?

     

    Japers' Rink Staff

    (JapersRink.com; @japersrink)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    This is an interesting matchup for the Caps. It's a team they've seen a lot in recent postseasons and yet it's not exactly the same Rangers' team they knocked out last year.

    It's a team that plays a very similar style to the Bruins (and to the Caps themselves), another team with a superstar goalie, another Cup-winning coach behind the bench... and yet the personnel, the coaching style and the philosophy are just different enough to require some slight adjustments on both the part of the Caps and their coach

    Matchup To Watch:

    Mike Green/Roman Hamrlik vs. New York's second and third line. We've seen how studly and awesome Karl Alzner and John Carlson can be when shutting down the opponent's top guys, and the Rangers' fourth line is decent enough but (hopefully) shouldn't be an issue for the Caps' bottom pair -- so once again this series could be decided by the guys in between. The Rangers, like the Bruins, boast pretty good forward depth and Tortorella isn't scared to just roll his lines; it'll be up to Green and Hamrlik to make them think twice about who they send out there.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    Dan Girardi. The guy's a walking bruise -- he's never met a shot he was afraid to block, and he logs huge minutes for the Rangers at even strength and on the penalty kill. He's going to be in Ovechkin's face from the drop of the puck to the handshake line.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    Absolutely.

    Really? Please explain:

    Holtby has shown that he doesn't get fazed by much, that he can be aggressive (sometimes to a fault, but he IS just a kid) and that he can make that big save the Caps need him to make. And Lundqvist, while an excellent goalie, has never seemed to scare the Caps -- and he didn't seem invincible in the first round against Ottawa, either. The key for the Caps will be to give Holtby the lead early as often as possible; let him be the one to settle in, feel the puck, take control of the game instead of allowing Lundqvist the chance to do the same.

    Oh, and shove Marian Gaborik toward Lundqvist as much as humanly possible.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    Ovi. The Rangers are a good defensive team and an excellent shot-blocking team, but Ovi was looking dangerous at times in the Boston series and that was with a 6'9" Slovakian hanging off of him. He'll have more room and get hit much less in this series, and if he gets going he could take over the series.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    If it's as many times as I've considered it with the series not even underway yet, there are not enough numbers to count.

    X-Factor:

    Whether or not the Caps maintain that mindset of being the underdog -- if they're able to ignore all the praise they've gotten for knocking out the Champs, focus on not making mistakes and keep playing the same way they did last round it'll be a competitive series. They need to maintain the mental toughness they showed off on numerous occasions against Boston and play with something to prove. If they don't, it'll be a short series and a long summer.

    Series Prediction :

    Caps in 7 games.

     

    Samuel Chamberlain, SB Nation DC Editor

    (dc.sbnation.com; @schamberlainsbn)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    Welcome to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, or as they should be called, the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals 2: Electric Boogaloo.

    Once again, the Capitals face a team that enjoyed regular season success, as the Rangers won the Eastern Conference with 109 points. However, both Washington and New York have just come through grueling, low-scoring, seven-game series that have tested the emotions (and blood pressure medications) of their respective fan bases. There's no reason to think this series will be any different.

    Matchup To Watch:

    Which young defensive pairing will perform better in this series? For Washington, Karl Alzner and John Carlson were massive in the series against Boston. On the other side, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will be the ones to keep an eye on.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    One of the aforementioned two.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    Unless he decides to walk the earth between now and Saturday afternoon, he absolutely can.

    Really? Please explain:

    Philosophically speaking, one goaltender "outplaying" another is at least partially the function of a team outplaying another team. Statistically speaking, Holtby nearly matched Lundqvist in the first round (Lundqvist: 1.70 GAA, 217 saves of 229 shots for a .945 save percentage. Holtby: 2.00 GAA, 248 saves of 263 shots for a .940 save percentage). If the performances are anywhere near that close, the Capitals will be in good shape.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    I'll go with Semin. Might as well stick with the hot hand (or stick, as the case may be).

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    I think Dale's a little old to be throwing his body around. He'll have to settle for Jim Schoenfeld-style pastry-baiting.

    X-Factor:

    As Marian Gaborik goes, so goes the series. If he struggles, the Rangers will have to resort to their squeezing-toothpaste-out-of-a-flat-tube offense, and that sure isn't pretty to watch.

    Prediction:

    Capitals in 6 Games. The Rangers offense struggles just enough that Lundqvist can't bail them out and the Capitals advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1998 in front of a howling Verizon Center.

     

    Ed Frankovic, WNST 1570 AM Baltimore and WNST.net

    (wnst.net; @edfrankovic)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: 

    The Caps have knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs in two of the last three years, but this is a different Rangers team. Last spring they faced the Caps without an injured Ryan Callahan and then in the offseason they added a significant piece in center Brad Richards. Washington won that series in 2011 without Dennis Wideman (who had a so-so series, at best, against Boston) so the Rangers aren't the only ones with a different roster for this matchup.

    New York is improved but I still think their defense is slow and they benefit a ton from Henrik Lundqvist bailing them out. Washington needs, like they did against Boston, to use their superior speed in the Caps forward to Rangers defense matchup. Guys like Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera will play a key role once again.

    Matchup To Watch:

    Whatever forward-defensive combination Dale Hunter uses must contain Marian Gaborik and Richards. If those New York skill guys get on a roll then that spells trouble for Washington. You can bet that Jay Beagle, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson will factor into Hunter's defensive matchups.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    Dan Girardi will likely draw that task paired with Mark Staal. But Ovechkin should be able to overcome Girardi better than he did the Boston duo of Chara and Seidenberg. Ovechkin needs to avoid trying too much one on one or trying to skate through the whole team. His best bet to score is to go to the net in this series. The Rangers defense doesn't have the ability to move him down low so the Gr8 needs to drive to the cage as much as possible with the puck.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    Probably not, but he likely doesn't need to.

    Really? Please explain:

    All Braden has to do is not give up soft goals to give Washington a chance to win. If No. 70 stays within in himself and continues to work well with his defense, then the Caps are in good shape.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    Ovechkin. The Gr8 is due to break out, and he has a nice history against Lundqvist and the Rangers. Ovechkin should be able to use his speed against a slower Rangers defense and New York does not have a defensive pair that compares to Chara-Seidenberg.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    None. Hunts doesn't pay much attention to what is going on in the media unless alerted to it, and rightly so. Tortorella, if he follows past form, will wear his team out emotionally with his combative style while Hunter will not waste energy with sound bites.

    X-Factor:

    Mike Green. If No. 52 continues to play well paired with Roman Hamrlik then that gives Hunter two really good defensive pairs to put on the ice. The Rangers will try to run Green and he needs to be smart about how he plays going into the corners and on the rush. A good series from "Game Over Greenie" likely means the Caps will advance.

    Series Prediction:

    Caps in 6 Games

     

    Michael Dell, Co-Founder of LCSHockey.com

    (LCSHockey.com; @michaelpauldell)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    Congratulations to the Caps for getting past the Bruins. Didn't think they had it in 'em. That was the kind of gutty, character performance this team has never been able to deliver when it mattered most.

    Oh, and a big tip of the cap to Alexander Ovechkin for still finding a way to further tarnish his legacy despite his team's success. How much longer before he's a power-play specialist?

    And let's hear it for the Patrick Division. Caps-Rangers and Devils-Flyers are beautiful, old school matchups that should make any hockey fan proud. Unless, you know, you live in Pittsburgh. Because then, wow, does this suck.

    Matchup To Watch:

    Not really a matchup, per se, but it will be interesting watching Braden Holtby stare down Henrik Lundqvist. Are we witnessing another Ken Dryden-type story in which a young goalie comes from obscurity to lead an improbable Cup run? Or will King Henrik crush the peasant revolution beneath his Gucci wingtips?

    But the premier matchup will of course be Alexander Semin v. Marc Staal. Word on the street is Semin has been training for the possible rematch, studying advanced fighting techniques under Meg White and Diddy Kong.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    Doubt Tortorella will assign anyone to sit on Washington's bench.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    No.

    Really? Please explain:

    I said no!

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    Someone else. Anyone else.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    Less than the number of times he'd like to "Turgeon" Ovechkin.

    X-Factor:

    Consistency. The Caps have transformed into a gritty, defensive club in recent weeks. The Rangers have been a gritty, defensive team all season. I'm more confident in New York's ability bring the same excellence night after night.

    Series Prediction:

    Rangers in five games.

    These teams are actually pretty close. I wouldn't be shocked if the Caps pulled off the upset, simply because guys like Ovechkin and Semin don't need a lot of chances to score; one mistake can end up in the net. But the Rangers don't make many mistakes. The Blueshirts will grind out a hard-fought victory, with each game being highly competitive.
     

    Ted Starkey, author of "Transition Game" and "Red Rising"

    (Transition Game, Red Rising; @tedstarkey)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    The Capitals and Rangers reached the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs after both surviving a pair of grueling seven-game series, although both teams took very different routes to their spots in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

    Washington completed the biggest upset in its franchise history since upending the Penguins in the 1994 playoffs by dethroning the defending champions thanks to Joel Ward's overtime tally in Game 7. The Caps won three of four games in Boston and also earned a hard-fought win in the first seven-game series with all games decided by a single goal. On the other hand, top-seeded New York outlasted an inspired upset bid by the Senators, erasing a 3-2 series deficit to advance to the next round thanks to a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden in the deciding contest.

    After a disappointing regular season performance by the Caps, Washington is playing some of its best hockey of the season, going 10-5-2 in its last 17 games, securing a playoff spot with just two games left in the regular season and then completing a series win over Boston. A big part of the reason for that recent surge is the strong play of 22-year-old netminder Braden Holtby, who posted a 2.00 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in the first round against the Bruins and the rookie was able to match last year's Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas to give the Caps a chance to pull the upset.

    Standing across the ice 180 feet away from Holtby will be Rangers' netminder Henrik Lundqvist, who has been stellar for the Rangers this season, being a finalist not only for the Vezina Trophy - given to the best goaltender in the league - but also the Hart Trophy, given to the league's most valuable player. Lundqvist has been solid for the Rangers in the playoffs this year, posting a 1.80 GAA and a .945 save percentage to allow the East's top regular-season team to advance.

    With the two goaltenders near the top of their games, expect a hard-fought low-scoring series for both clubs, with the pressure on the teams to create enough scoring by crashing the net and creating traffic in front of the other team's goaltender. Whichever teams' stars can produce some goals against a tough netminder will have a big edge in the series.

    This is the third time in four years the Caps and Rangers have met in the playoffs, with Washington winning once in seven (2009) and once in five (2011),. However, this time around, the Rangers come in as the favorite as the East's top seed, so it will be interesting to see if the chance in pressure changes the series.

    Matchup To Watch:

    Washington's Alex Ovechkin vs. New York's Marian Gaborik

    Surprisingly for both teams, they were able to advance without their top scorers playing at their best.

    Alex Ovechkin scored two goals against the Bruins, but Washington lost both games he was able to light the lamp, as he scored in losses at home in Games 3 and 6. Matched against Boston's 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara, the Washington captain saw his ice time reduced through the series, as he played in less than 18 minutes of three of the last five games of the series. While Ovechkin played a physical series against the Bruins to answer Boston's aggressive style, he certainly will be looked upon to create more offense against the Rangers. The Caps captain did well against the Rangers in the regular season, as he scored five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in four games this season against the Blueshirts.

    Marian Gaborik scored 41 goals during the regular season for the Rangers, but was held to a single goal - and none in the last six games of their series - against Ottawa, becoming noticeably more absent as the series went on. New York needs more from the Slovakian star who provided 18 percent of the team's goals during the campaign, and he has to try and improve his track record against the Caps, as he scored only scoring once in four games versus the Capitals in the regular season.

    In a series where goals will come at a premium, if one of the team's most potent threats can get into a groove, it would go a long way to get his team in to the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    Ovechkin will get a chance to see a lot of Rangers defenseman Marc Staal this series, a player who is familiar in facing the Capitals' star in the playoffs. Staal has been matched against Ovechkin in two playoff series over the last four seasons, and it hasn't worked out so well for the Thunder Bay native.

    Last year's playoff series with Washington ended with Ovechkin speeding past a fatigued Staal for the eventual series-winner in Game 5 at Verizon Center, as the Capitals moved on and left Staal saying he felt fatigued going against the Caps' star by the series finale. While Staal won't figure to carry quite as much of the load defensively this year for the Rangers this time around, he still will be figured to be facing Ovechkin much of the series, and be put in charge of preventing the Capitals' star from breaking through in the series.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    Against last year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Holtby held his own, and will have a good chance to face one of the league's top netminders this season. While Holtby has looked cool and composed so far in seven career playoff games, Lundqvist is still looking to turn in a performance like his 2007 effort..

    Really? Please explain:

    Holtby was able to neutralize Boston's big advantage in net in the first round, and will look to do it again against another one of the league's elite netminders. Holtby showed a sharp glove and took a lot of the space low away from the Bruins in their series. As a result, Boston had trouble getting goals against the young Saskatchewan native, as he kept his cool despite some attempts to knock him off his game.

    New York isn't quite as potent an offensive club as the Bruins, and their forward corps isn't quite as deep as Boston's, but you figure the Rangers will try some of the same net-crashing tactics to rattle Holtby.

    In the other net, the Capitals have been able to be successful against Lundqvist, earning a pair of playoff series wins, and handing the goaltender a 4-8 record -- 2.64 GAA, .912 save percentage -- in a dozen playoff games against Washington. While the Swedish star has played well at times in the previous two matchups, he wasn't quite good enough to give the Rangers a chance to pull the upset.

    While Lundqvist has been really stellar during his last few years in the regular season, he still has some to prove in the spring, not delivering a signature playoff performance since nearly upsetting the top-seeded Buffalo Sabres in the second round of the 2007 playoffs.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    Alexander Semin led the Caps against the Rangers in the regular season with three goals in four games, and after an impressive showing against a Boston team that isn't as generous with space as New York can be, the Russian soon-to-be free agent is certainly a candidate have a good series.

    While the Rangers are a good shot-blocking club, Semin tends to thrive against teams that aren't quite as physical to try to stop him from heading to the net, so you figure he should get some good looks against Lundqvist in this series. With the extra space, Semin might be the Caps' top goal-scoring threat in the second round. Semin showed a lot of hustle -- even blocking shots -- against the Bruins, and will get a bit more room to operate against the Blueshirts.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    While the Caps' coach used to be one of the league's best pests on the ice, Rangers coach John Tortorella certainly has his own way with language, particularly being able to skewer teams and officials -- twice this season earning heavy fines for his pointed comments towards officials and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    With six breaks in between a possible seven-game series, look for some verbal fire towards the Caps and/or officials between each one. While Hunter isn't one of the league's most talkative coaches, he certainly will be hoping for a chance to strap on the skates against Tortorella a few times this series.

    X-Factor:

    While New York struggled to score goals against the Senators, the Capitals figure to be a much tougher test for the East's top seed. As Boston's coach Claude Julien said, the Capitals right now aren't playing like a true No. 7 seed, but a much more dangerous opponent being relatively healthy outside the netminders.

    Injuries hit New York hard the first round, with Brian Boyle out with a concussion after a tough hit by Ottawa's Chris Neil, and Ryan Callahan - who missed the Capitals series last spring with a broken ankle - and Mike Richards also reportedly not at 100 percent. After a season without both Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom for long stretches, the Capitals' core is relatively healthy, with the only major injury being to goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

    For New York to advance, they will need Gaborik to produce as he did during the regular season, as he is the team's primary offensive threat and will need to light the lamp against the Capitals. The Rangers likely wouldn't be able to win the series series if he continues to struggle in the postseason.

    The Capitals seem to be thriving without the pressure that has saddled them as a favorite, as Nicklas Backstrom and the Caps were happy to assign the pressure on the conference's best regular-season team. They will have to be able to dent Lundqvist and also look to Holtby to match Lundqvist, as Semyon Varlamov did three years ago and Michael Neuvirth did last spring.

    Series Prediction:

    Capitals in 7 Games

     

    Sean Leahy, Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy Blog

    (sports.yahoo.com; @sean_leahy)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    Crickets.

     

    Angie Lewis, TheHockeyWriters.com

    (TheHockeyWriters.com; @ladyhattrick)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    Getting past Round 1 was huge for the Caps, and it’s becoming less of a hindrance to Washington’s playoff success. It’s Round 2 that’s been problematic. Riding in on the confidence from completing the underdog role against the defending champs and knowing they certainly do not want to be embarrassed like they were versus Tampa Bay last season, the Capitals will aim to play hard again versus the Rangers. However, the Blueshirts are nothing to blink at. Armed with an even tougher defensive corps than the Bruins and a Vezina and Hart trophy candidate (Henrik Lundqvist), the Rangers were the top seed for a reason. They may have lost big to the Caps in the final game of the season, but it won’t be that easy to trump the Rangers again. Have fun watching this defensively tight series that may go down to the wire! 

    Matchup To Watch:

    Once again, Jay Beagle has been heavily relied upon in the Hunter-era. He’ll probably get some key duties this time around trying to keep down Brad Richards, who leads the Rangers in points for the postseason so far.

    Troy Brouwer vs. Ryan Callahan. Both are solid two-way forwards who play a very physical game and can tack on a scoring touch. Both have performed well to this point, and it is likely that they will be up against each other on the ice. I’d like to see which one of these two will have the bigger impact this series for their team – on the scoresheet and overall.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    Dan Girardi.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    Not necessarily...

    Really? Please explain:

    But playing his best can serve just as well as outplaying Lundqvist. It’ll be up to the Caps’ defense to remain disciplined and not commit silly turnovers that the Bruins let them get away with in the last series. The Rangers still have the edge in goal, but the combination of Holtby’s performance and the entire Caps defense can help them match the standalone performance of Lundqvist.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    Brooks Laich will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2 -– if he takes advantage of his versatility.

    It’s highly possible that Semin, who has three goals in the four games in the season against the Rangers, could tie for the scoring lead.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    Since most coaches don’t necessarily act the way they played, Hunter will instead stick two wads of chewed gum in his ears to block out Torts’ yapping.

    X-Factor:

    Scoring first in the last series for Washington proved to serve as a good omen the rest of the game. I believe that to be true again in Round 2 against the Rangers. It will bode well to get one past Henrik Lundqvist and the defense early to set the tone. That means that Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin will need to be utilized.

    1.) For the Rangers, at the end of Round 1 against the Senators, Lundqvist said that the biggest reason the Rangers were the top seed in the East was because of their consistency. I can’t argue with that. If they get a good start to this series against the Caps, that will have to continue to be the theme for the Rangers.

    2.) Also, Marian Gaborik stepped up late in the last series. It’ll be key for him to flow into Round 2 right away.

    3.) If healthy and able to play at his best, Brian Boyle will try to get under the Caps’ skin for sure. He’ll need to be an agitator, be physical and make sure that he stays out the box while doing it, and remember to contribute offensively. If he isn’t ready, someone else will need to step up and wear down Washington.

    Series Prediction:

    Caps in 7. This is a much more favorable matchup for Washington, so as long as they don’t get ahead of themselves, they can finally advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since the last time they beat Boston in the first round *wink*.

     

    Jack Anderson, Caps Reporter, XM Home Ice

    (KingsOfLeonsis.com; @jackandersoniii)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

     

    After a shocking upset of the defending Cup Champion Bruins, the Caps set their sight on the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the New York Rangers. The matchup seems to be a bit more favorable than the last one for Washington who has to be coming in full of confidence after playing their best hockey of the season vs. Boston.

     

    With the Rangers offense sputtering at even strength they will look to a stalwart defensive corps and elite goalie Henrik Lundqvist to carry the load. Meanwhile the Caps hope to get their stars untracked against a team they've previously had success against in the playoffs.

    Matchup To Watch:

    Ovechkin vs. Dan Girardi

    Ovechkin had six points in five games while playing largely against Girardi in last year's playoffs. The Caps will need a similar effort from their star forward this time around as Ovechkin will square off against the postseason leader in blocked shots.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    Girardi.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    Though he had a memorable series, Holtby was far from perfect and was the first to admit it. He'll need to clean up his game -- particularly his rebound control -- if he wants to outduel the best netminder in hockey. It's tough to give the Caps an edge in the goalie battle.

    Really? Please explain:

    There's a reason Lundqvist is both a Hart and Vezina finalist. He posted a 1.97 GAA and a save percentage of .930 as he helped the Rangers to their best season since 1993-94 when they won the Stanley Cup. Holtby has been a terrific story and will hold his own against New York, but he's not yet in King Henrik's league.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    Alex Semin. Sasha scored a team-high three goals against Boston and has been at his best when he plays New York in the postseason. In 12 playoff games against the Rangers, Semin has eight goals and 12 total points, making him the most likely candidate to have a big series.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    The Capitals have gotten in Tortorella's head before and they'll probably be able to do it again with their newfound ability to play disciplined hockey. Yet don't expect Hunter to get involved much less uncross his arms from behind the bench. It's all business all the time for the Caps coach and he'll keep it that way throughout the series.

    X-Factor:

    If Marian Gaborik can start finding the back of the net the Caps will be in trouble. Gaborik has recorded two 40-goal seasons in the past three years, but has just two goals in his last 17 postseason games. If he can rediscover his scoring touch in the playoffs, then it will jumpstart a Rangers offense that scored just five even strength goals after Game 1 of their first-round series against Ottawa.

    Series Prediction:

    Rangers in 7.

     

     

    Scott Linn, ESPN Radion 980

    (@scottlinn980; ESPN980.com)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    Here we go again, huh? Last couple of postseason meetings worked out OK for the locals. Why can't that happen, again? Especially since, as everyone is noting, these aren't your dad's, aunt's or great uncle's fun, run-and-gun Capitals. How funny is it that the last few weeks, and even before that, had everyone wondering what the season would look like if Bruce Boudreau had remained head coach? Those cries seem to have silenced -- quickly.

    Matchup To Watch:

    As much as I hate to do this, because hockey isn't a 1-on-1 sport, the goalies will still rule all. Braden Holtby's amazing play, coupled with his steely demeanor, kept the Caps in games when things felt as if they were slipping away. Henrik Lundqvist is very good at his job and always seems to be in control.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    Brandon Dubinsky, if healthy -- D-men McDonagh and Girardi will, likely, watch as well, but, they're no Chara and Seidenberg.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    Yes!

    Really? Please explain:

    Aside from some great saves courtesy of Holtby, the image of Rich Peverley faking a slash at the Caps' netminder will never fade. Holtby doesn't seem to allow himself to be affected.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    Troy Brouwer.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider "Turgeon-ing" Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    Four: the media will triple that wished number by the end of Game 2.

    X-Factor:

    Dennis Wideman. He has to be better than he showed in the Boston series.

    Series Prediction:

    Capitals in 6.

     

    Peter Hassett, Russian Machine Never Breaks

    (@peterhassett; RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:

    You can take this one to the bank. Caps-Rangers is a guarantee for great hockey. You've got stars aplenty in Lundqvist and Ovechkin and one very big personality in NYR coach John Tortorella. Madison Square Garden is a big stage, albeit a poorly lit one with rotten floorboards. We can't be sure this one will surpass last year's series (which I wrote about on RMNB), which had off-ice drama, tight back-and-forth play, and a couple superlong overtimes. Still, it's gonna be fun.

    Matchup To Watch:

    This is sort of a cop-out, but I'm going with Holtby vs. Lundqvist. A "goalie duel" is sort of a farce since the two never interact, but it'll be fascinating to see how a promising young buck with some impressive short-term stats performs compared to an old pro with a sterling record and playing maybe the best season of his career.

    Stalker Alert: The Ranger who Coach John Tortorella will assign to Ovi throughout the series will be:

    It's gotta be Ryan McDonagh. He doesn't have nearly the size of "Big Z" Zdeno Chara, but he's much more mobile and with better stick skills. Although Chara's size was intimidating and he could level some big hits, I'm not convinced that's a better match-up for Alex Ovechkin's style of play. If Ovi is doing his usual thing (carrying the puck from neutral into the Rangers zone, then crossing to the middle before taking a shot through a screen), then there will be three or four golden opportunities for a stick-check turnover every time.

    After besting Tim Thomas, can Braden Holtby outplay Henrik Lundqvist in Round 2?

    Sure he can, but it's not likely.

    Really? Please explain:

    Holtby probably cannot stop 94 percent of shots for the rest of the postseason. It's kind of inevitable that he'll dip a bit. So the challenge is on the Capitals offense to shellack Henrik with pucks. The Rangers are not the best shooters, so if the Caps' forwards can create a shot margin, that should be the difference-maker.

    Who will score the most goals for the Caps in Round 2: Ovi, Semin, or someone else?

    Marcus Johansson. Write it down on a piece of paper. Put it in your wallet. Pull it out a few days from now and say, "Wow. Peter was right!" MJ90 won't get the defensive coverage that the stars will get, so he may get enough space on the ice to make something happen -- preferably right up in Lundqvist's crease.

    Number of times Dale Hunter will consider “Turgeon-ing” Tortorella in the series to stop his yapping:

    Zero. At this point, I'm not sure that the felonious, antisocial, 1980s version of Dale Hunter exists anymore. The guy behind the Caps bench now has ice in his veins. He's soft-spoken, terse, and having way too much fun coaching this hockey team to get sucked into Torts's nonsense.

    X-Factor:

    Mike Knuble. He missed lots of last year's series with a broken thumb. He's not getting primo ice time, but he's a gravitational force in front of the net, pulling in pucks whenever he can. If Hunter gives him a chance, Kanoobs will make something happen.

    Series Prediction:

    Caps in 6 games.