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Caps-Rangers Prognostication Center

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    As part of our Capitals playoff coverage, we're turning 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 each series. 

    Here is a rundown of how some of the local and national experts (and Sean Leahy) see the Capitals-Rangers series playing out, in no particular order:

     

    Ted Starkey, Washington Times:

    (http://www.washingtontimes.com and @TedStarkey)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: The Capitals struggled in the regular-season series against the Rangers, getting handed a pair of shutout losses by New York's Vezina Trophy candidate, Henrik Lundqvist.

    New York employed a physical style and was willing to block shots against the Caps in the regular season, and Rangers coach John Tortorella figures to use the same tactics in this series.

    However, Washington did make a major change in their lineup at the trade deadline, acquiring Jason Arnott -- familiar with the Rangers from his days in New Jersey -- and the Capitals certainly will look to erase some of the sting from last year's disappointing loss to Montreal in the first round.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth was the team's No. 1 starter through the regular season, and certainly will get a chance to begin this series. Of course, Washington has given the hook to its starting netminder the last two first-round series, so if he struggles, Bruce Boudreau certainly won't hesitate to use the goaltender that helped author 2009's comeback win against New York, Semyon Varlamov, or even Braden Holtby from Hershey.

    Matchup to Watch: Alex Ovechkin vs. Marc Staal: With the Rangers needing to have to slow down Washington's potent offense in what should be a tight series, Staal will get the important task of slowing down the Capitals' biggest weapon. If New York can't limit Washington's scoring chances on Lundqvist, it could be a short series for the Blueshirts, so it will be up to Staal to corral the Caps captain.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: Four. Ovechkin has a knack of performing well at the "World's Most Famous Arena," notching 10 points -- including 5 goals -- in his last six regular-season trips to Madison Square Garden. With Washington's star putting less of an emphasis on regular season totals and hardware, the second season could prove to be a showcase for Ovechkin.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: Two. Semin has played much better since the arrival of Arnott as the Caps' second-line center, and the former Devil also has seemingly made an impression on Washington's enigmatic Russian in the locker room as well. While Semin has been largely invisible in the Caps' last two playoff series vs. Pittsburgh and Montreal, expect a bigger contribution this series with a gritty center for Semin to set up scoring chances.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: Three. If the Rangers have any chance of upsetting Washington, they need their own enigmatic star to produce. Gaborik hasn't scored a goal since Mar. 20, and with Ryan Callahan out for the series with a broken leg, the pressure will be even greater for Gaborik to shoulder the load. He should get a couple of chances to put the puck in the net, the question is if it will be enough to engineer an upset.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: 24. In what figures to be a tight series -- and HBO's camera's not following him -- there certainly will be some bombs dropped behind the Caps' bench as the games will be tight and the pressure high on Washington's coach to write just his second series win in four years.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: 85. One of the most honest -- and colorful -- postgame speakers, Tortorella got himself suspended in Game 6 of the 2009 series vs. Washington by squirting water on fans behind the Rangers' bench at Verizon Center. Figure a steady stream of salty language this time around.

    X-Factor: For New York, Chris Drury is certainly one of the players with potential to turn the series. Despite playing with a bad hand in the 2009 series, he still willed a Game 4 winner past Varlamov. Drury returned to the lineup in the Rangers' season-saving win over New Jersey Saturday and contributed an important tally early to wash out an early Devils goal.

    For Washington, Jason Arnott is the player to watch, as his presence has anchored the offense and helped the Caps pass Philadelphia for top seed in the East. Arnott has a Stanley Cup-winning goal on his resume, and the team certainly brought him in for this time of year. He can deliver a key goal or assist, and it will be worth watching his first spring in a Caps uniform.

    Series Prediction: Washington in 7.

     

    J.P. of Japers' Rink:

    (http://www.japersrink.com/ and @japersrink)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: The Caps have transformed from a fast-and-loose bunch to one of the League's top defensive teams and now get to put that new style to the ultimate test. Assuming they stick to the script, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to handle the up-and-down Rangers.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Varlamov. When healthy (as he is at the moment), he's the better of the Caps' top-two netminders.

    Matchup to Watch: Alex Ovechkin vs. Dan Girardi.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: 4

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: 2

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: 4

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: Too many to count.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: Are we talking in-game or during post-game scrums?

    X-Factor: The Caps' power play. If it clicks, they win. If not, they could be a carbon-copy of last year's playoff failure.

    Series Prediction: Caps in six.

     

    John Keeley, On Frozen Blog:

    (http://www.onfrozenblog.com/ and @onfrozenblog)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: The pressure's all on the Caps. Another first-round failure and ... let's not even think about it.

    Injuries are claiming two key cogs: Ryan Callahan for the Rags, Dennis Wideman for the Caps. Both are impact players; neither will play at all.

    Bruce Boudreau is under intense scrutiny this postseason, but so is his captain. Alexander Ovechkin forsaked another season of impressive individual stats in pursuit of championing a revamped defensive look. The power play has been a struggle -- or worse -- all season long. Recall its 1-for-33 role in making it a one-and-done for the Caps last spring. The Caps need a healthy Mike Green helping on the extra-man unit.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Whoever wins. That's Boudreau's creed. Reliable goaltending hasn't been an issue for this team this season. We don't expect it to be in the postseason.

    Matchup to Watch: The Caps' top line versus the Blueshirts' top D pairing of Girardi and Staal.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: If he is shooting from beyond the circles,where Lundqvist has his highest save percentage, maybe two or three. Maybe. If Alex is down in the high slot and around the net though, we could easily see six or seven goals.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: Depends on which Sasha we see. Sasha Fierce, we could easily see five or six. If it is Bad Sasha, don't be surprised if he doesn't find the back of the net.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: Three, max.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: We couldn't figure out how to type the symbol for infinity, so we'll go with "More than the federal deficit."

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: Entirely dependent on how he feels about his hair that day. Also, how close up front in the press scrum Larry Brooks gets.

    X-Factor: Can Jason Arnott and Alexander Semin re-establish the productive chemistry they showed together before injuries disrupted? If the Caps can bring a productive top-6 set of forwards to this series, they should win. They will also want to keep it under 7 games.

    Series Prediction: Caps in 6

     

    Grant Paulsen, 106.7 The Fan

    (http://washington.cbslocal.com/ and @granthpaulsen)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: The Rangers were the one team that no Capitals fan wanted to see, and there are 18 reasons for that (the number of goals New York scored in four games against Washington this season).

    But the Caps play a more playoff-friendly brand of hockey this season than they have in years past. I think peaking in the season's final six weeks will benefit them and they'll play a strong series against a quality opponent.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Michael Neuvirth, who won 16 more games than any other Caps netminder. He's earned the right to be in net to start the post-season. Don't be surprised to see Bruce Boudreau insert Semyon Varlamov at the first sign of trouble, though.

    Matchup to Watch: Ovechkin's line against the Rangers' best defensive pairing of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. They are a combined +15 and are stout enough defensively to frustrate the Caps' top line.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: Three.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: Two.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: Two.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: 1,217 if the series goes six games. If it goes seven, bump the total up to 1,341.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: I'll say 49 ... In honor, of course, of the number of games Otis Thorpe spent with the Washington Wizards.

    X-Factor: Henrik Lundqvist led the NHL with 11 shutouts. If he is the best player in the series the Rangers will move on convincingly. I think Washington solves him -- like they did back in 2009.

    The Capitals' X-Factor: Mike Knuble celebrates his contract extension by leading the Caps in goals in the series.

    Series Prediction: Washington in 6

     

    Sean Leahy, Yahoo! Sports Puck Daddy:

    (http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy and @sean_leahy)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series:  Would have loved to seen this series go on with a healthy Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik playing like Marian Gaborik can. Instead, the Rangers do have a slim chance to pull off the upset, but I think the Caps adjusting their style of play this season will really benefit them in playoff hockey.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Michal Neuvirth

    Matchup to Watch: John Tortorella vs. flying water bottles

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: Five.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: One.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: Zero.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: 211

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: 105

    X-Factor: The Caps goaltending will decide whether or not they breeze past New York in five games or whether it once again goes seven games.

    Series Prediction: Caps in five games.

     

    Ben Sumner, CapitalsOutsider

    (http://capitalsoutsider.com/ and @benjaminsumner)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: I'm pretty sure it's the first round, with a first seed going up against an eighth seed that had to depend on Carolina shooting themselves in the foot. In other words, the Rangers will probably have a cakewalk to the Stanley Cup Finals this year.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Braden Holtby. But since he's in Hershey, Michal Neuvirth. Or Semyon Varlamov.

    Matchup to Watch: Ovechkin vs. Dubinsky, round 2!

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: 9. An Ovechtrick. And that's just Game 1.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: Zero. That's what he normally does in the playoffs, right?

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: Who is Gaborik?

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: 351.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: 351.

    X-Factor: Ovechkin scoring the game winner in Game 7 will make the difference.

    Series Prediction: Caps in 7.

     

    Dave Nichols, Capital News Network:

    (http://capsnewsnetwork.blogspot.com/ and @capsnewsnetwork)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: This will be a physical series with the Rangers wanting to intimidate the Caps, especially on the forecheck. The Caps have more dynamic playmakers than New York, but the Rangers are pretty well balanced throughout their forwards.

    Losing Ryan Callahan, their second-leading scorer, will hurt the Rangers. New York's special teams aren't especially troublesome, but everything is amplified in the playoffs. Of course, Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies on the planet, and the Caps will want to jump on him quickly in Game One and crowd his crease at every opportunity.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Michal Neuvirth. He's shouldered the load all season long. He has been the Caps MVP for much of the season, especially when the offense was really struggling. And, he has extensive playoff experience at the AHL level.

    Semyon Varlamov has put up slightly better numbers this season, but in much fewer games, and it appears he's healthy enough to back up Neuvirth if needed.

    Matchup to Watch: Alex Ovechkin v. Marc Staal. The Caps captain's scoring per game actually goes up in the playoffs, so expect the Rangers to try to blanket him as best they can whenever he's on the ice. The Caps will need to get balanced scoring, something that deserted them in the first round last season, but they still need their cleanup hitter to do what he does best.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: Four.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: Two.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: Two.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: Too many to count.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: One more than Boudreau.

    X-Factor: John Carlson. He's been on the ice a lot this season and has been counted on for defense and offense. Other than a couple-game lull in February, he's answered the call every night and is playing some of his best hockey. If Mike Green or Tom Poti can contribute anything in this series, Carlson will have a couple minutes shaved off his TOI per game, keeping his legs fresher for when he is out there.

    Series Prediction: Caps in five.
     

    Ed Frankovic, WNST 1570 Baltimore

    (http://wnst.net/wordpress/edfrankovic/ and @emfrank123)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: This series is going to come down to hard work and determination. The Rangers definitely bring that, and for the Caps to win they need to match or beat New York’s intensity and desire.

    Washington is the more skilled team, but playoff hockey is a different animal, where many contests are of the one goal variety. The Capitals played over 40 one-goal games this season and as a result should be more battle tested than in year's past.

    New York is a club that never quits and proof of that is the way they made the playoffs on the last day of the season as well as their 5-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday night after trailing 3-0. Coach Tortorella’s crew believes in themselves and the only way to beat a team like that is to outwork them. If the Caps don’t do that this postseason, then there is no doubt that there will be changes in Washington.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Michal Neuvirth, he's earned the start. If he struggles then Semyon Varlamov is a good option who has proven he can come in and bail the team out of a hole (see 2009 series vs. the Rangers)

    Matchup to Watch: Caps defense, to include the forwards, against Marian Gaborik and Vaclav Prospal. If Washington can shut down those pure goal scorers then they have a very good chance of winning this series.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: 4

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: 3

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: 2

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: In press conferences, 0, but behind the bench or in the locker room, over 100, easy.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: More likely to drop several f-bombs in a press conference, because he doesn't care. I am guessing one per game. Otherwise behind the bench and in the locker room he will easily be over 100 because as we saw on 24/7, THIS IS HOCKEY!

    X-Factor: The team that gets the early lead in each game will have a big advantage because I see these tilts as being of the low-scoring variety. The Rangers, if they get a lead, will no doubt try and play a neutral zone trap and counter attack the Capitals, so Washington needs to get the first goal and take away the comfort zone that New York likes to get into when they are leading.

    Series Prediction: Caps in 6

     

    Adam Vingan, Kings of Leonsis and SB Nation:

    (http://kingsofleonsis.com/ and @Adam_KOL)

    Overall thoughts on the series: The Capitals might relive one of their worst nightmares when facing the Rangers in the first round. Two years ago, the then seventh-seeded Rangers had a 3-1 lead in the series before the Caps came back to win in seven.

    Washington had an even worse time against New York this season, going 1-2-1 in four games and being outscored 18-6. Five of this six goals came in one game, while the Caps were shutout twice by a combined score of 13-0. It won't be easy and it won't be pretty.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Michal Neuvirth. He has proven all season long that he has what it takes to steal games and stay healthy (which couldn't be said about his goaltending counterpart, Semyon Varlamov).

    Varlamov has much more NHL playoff experience, while Neuvirth has none, but Neuvirth knows what it takes to win championships, having won two consecutive Calder Cups with the AHL Hershey Bears.

    Despite Neuvirth's success this season, we have seen in seasons past that head coach Bruce Boudreau keeps his goalies on a short leash. In the two last postseasons, starter Jose Theodore lasted just one game before being pulled in favor of Varlamov. If Neuvirth can continue his high rate of play during the postseason, he has a chance to cement himself as the starter for years to come, but keep an eye on Varlamov.

    Matchup to Watch: The Capitals' offense v. Henrik Lundqvist. "King Henrik" started 67 of New York's games this season and finished with a 36-27-5 record, a 2.28 GAA and a .923 SV%. He set a career high and led the NHL with 11 shutouts, two of which came against the Caps. His 11-6-2 record with a 2.75 GAA and .906 SV% lifetime against the Caps is respectable and he has proven that he can shut them down before.

    When Washington and New York met in the postseason two years ago, the Caps went down 3-1 in the series partially because they couldn't get traffic in front of Lundqvist and resorted to shooting pucks from the point, shots that a world-class goalie like Lundqvist had no problem stopping. Once the Caps crashed the net and got in Lundqvist's crease, he faltered rather quickly. The Caps must wreak havoc in front of Lundqvist and players like Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble and Jason Arnott will be responsible for doing just that.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: Ovechkin only has 13 career goals against the Rangers, but had three in the last series between these two teams. It was a down year overall for Ovechkin (his 32 goals were a career low), but he has been heating up as of late and what better time for him to break out than in the playoffs? I think Ovechkin will score five goals in the series, including two game-winners.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: Much like Ovechkin, Semin had a down year as well, even after starting on such a hot streak. An almost three-month goal drought didn't help. To make matters worse, Semin has 0 goals in his last 14 playoff games. If he wants to prove his worth (one that earned him a one-year extension in January), he will have to produce. Semin will have a modest first round and score three goals.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: Marian Gaborik, in what seems to be typical Gaborik fashion, missed a quarter of the season with injuries and only scored 22 goals. He only has 12 goals in 29 career playoff games and has made it out of the first round once. The Caps will be watching Gaborik closely and he should be shut down. Gaborik will score one goal.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: More than one can count. We've seen him show little to no regard to the English language on HBO's "24/7" miniseries. I would think somewhere in the triple digits.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: John Tortorella is on the same level if not higher than Boudreau when it comes to swearing. All I can say is that fans sitting behind the Rangers' bench should bring ponchos.

    X-Factor: For the Rangers, it's Lundqvist for the reasons stated above. For the Caps, it's Mike Green. Green has missed most of the last half of the season while dealing with head injuries, including a concussion suffered from an elbow from the Rangers' Derek Stepan. New York was the last team that Green played against and will be the first one upon his return. Green has been a no-show in the playoffs for several years now (he had one goal in the Rangers series and overall in the playoffs two years ago) and will have to find his touch when it comes to scoring big goals. He wasn't given the nickname "Game Over" for nothing.

    Series prediction:  The Caps will find a way to solve Lundqvist early and use their new-found playoff experience in the form of players like Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm and Scott Hannan to dispose of the Rangers. Caps defeat Rangers in six games.

     

    Jeff Greenberg, NBC Washington Executive Producer, Sports

    (NBC Washington's Capital Games)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: Proving ground vs. team that kicked the Caps when they were down. Opportunity to see evolution of defensive style now that offense has resurfaced.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Doesn't matter. Whoever has the hot hand. Start with Neuvirth and go from there.

    Matchup to Watch: Henrik Lundquvist vs Alex Ovechkin.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: 3

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: 0

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: 2

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: On camera, six; off camera, infinite.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: One less than Boudreau.

    X-Factor: Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich will make up for another Semin disappearing act.

    Series Prediction: Caps in 7.

     

    Michael Menser Dell, LCSHockey.com:

    (http://www.lcshockey.com and @MichaelPaulDell)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: A few weeks ago, I felt this was a terrible matchup for the Caps. But then the Rangers kind of fell apart, and losing Callahan is brutal. The Blueshirts are still a live underdog, though. They've got more resiliency than Boudreau's pants.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Don Beaupre.

    Matchup to Watch: Marc Staal v. Ovechkin. Can Ovechkin handle a true shutdown defender for seven games? Or if he struggles, will he pout and resort to old habits?

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: Three.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: Semin goals? Aw, that's rich. Good one. I'd estimate the number of "Semin goals" slightly more than the number of intergalactic space goats but not so high as the likelihood of dancing unicorns.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: Gaborik makes Semin look like Rocket Richard. But I say he puts at least two in off a dancing unicorn.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: Does "fudge" count as an F-bomb? Boudreau likes fudge.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: Kind of depends if Sean Avery plays.

    X-Factor: Chris Drury. After one of the worst seasons imaginable, Drury returned from injury in the final game and delivered his lone goal in a must-win situation. He's built his reputation on playoff scoring, but does he have anything left? For the Rangers to win, Drury will have to be a force. Oh, and it would help if someone woke up Sean Avery.

    Mike Green. Will he play? And if so, will his return disrupt the defense?

    Series Prediction: I really, really want to pick the Rangers. But the Callahan injury is devastating. Caps in 6.


     

    Angie Lewis, TheHockeyWriters.com

    (TheHockeyWriters.com and @LadyHatTrick)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: My overall thoughts on this series are that this will be a tough one for the Caps to win. While I predict it will be a short series, each individual game will be a hard fought and physical battle between the two teams.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Michal Neuvirth the Caps goaltender to start. His calmness and smoothness -- along with reliability in Washington's bigger games this year -- have earned him the top spot. However, I suspect he will have a short leash if he has even one bad game. Either way, whether Semyon Varlamov or Neuvirth start a game, the Capitals should be fine in net, especially if the defense stays as cohesive as it has been all year long.

    Matchup to Watch: Alex Ovechkin and Marc Staal. Everyone will be looking for both of them to come up big in key moments for their respective teams. The focus on Ovechkin will also free up the Semin-Arnott-Laich line for Washington (assuming that is the combination Boudreau begins with). It could show the depth the Capitals have on offense.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: 5

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: 4

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: 3

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: 310

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: 232

    X-Factor: The defense and goaltending will be the key to the Rangers' success while the Capitals' success will be based on whether the team can take advantage of offensive opportunities and match the physicality of the Rangers.

    Series Prediction: Caps win in 5.

     

    Samuel Chamberlain, SBNation.com

    (SBNation.com and @SChamberlainNYU)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: Allow me to be the 100th person to point out what a bad match-up the Rangers are for the Capitals. They work hard, they're physical, and they have reliable goaltending, all of which are relatively unknown quantities in this edition of the Capitals. On the other hand, the matchup itself offers a chance for the Caps to prove that the praise that's been justifiably heaped upon them for their fresh defensive mindset isn't just empty words. Should be a taut, tense, closely played series that goes 6 or 7 games.

    The Goaltender Should Be...: I've thought all season that a healthy Semyon Varlamov is the best option in net, but that's not proven to be feasible over the course of a season. Neuvirth has to be the guy in Game 1 just based on the number of games he's started. However, I have no doubt that Varlamov will be back in the net if Neuvirth looks particularly lost Wednesday night.

    Matchup to Watch: The Capitals top lines vs. the Rangers young and playoff-inexperienced defensemen, in particularly Sauer, McDonagh, and Gilroy.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: Five, matching his output from the Montreal series last season.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: I'll say one, but for Washington's sake, he'd better get a lot more.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: Two, matching his output against the Caps this season.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: Many

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: Many more

    X-Factor: The absence of Ryan Callahan will be a massive loss for the Rangers and I'm not sure that he can be replaced, which is why I pick...

    Series Prediction: Capitals in 6

     

    Chris Kerwin, NBC Washington Videographer

    (NBC Washington's Capital Games)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: Bruce Boudreau says the series will come down to the intangibles: the battles in the corners, the goaltender who is slightly better, etc. I say it will come down to the quality of shots the Caps get off.

    Last year the Caps outshot Montreal, but most of those shots came from outside "the house" -- if you drew a line from one goal post to the nearest faceoff dot, then over to the other faceoff dot and back to the goal post ... that's the house. I never bought that the Habs' goaltending was that good. There were some fabulous saves, but most shots came from outside the house; making it very easy on them.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: There is no wrong answer here, but mine is Neuvy.

    He's shown he has the hot glove lately and should be given the shot. Bruce has a rep of pulling goalies quick, so whomever starts knows they have to be on top of their game not just for the team's sake, but for their own future. A good run in the playoffs makes a goalie that much more valuable come contract time.

    Matchup to Watch: Sean Avery vs John Erskine. You probably said WHO?

    Seriously, Erksine's ability to keep this pest away from the net and put up with all the dirty stuff he pulls will set the tone defensively. Erskine was a healthy scratch for last year's playoffs, but was a healthy +5 in the seven game series against the Rangers in April 2009.

    That, along with the new attention to detail when the Caps don't have the puck, will be key, so it may also be the Caps-Want-To-Take-Risks-on-Offense against the Caps-New-Commitment-to-Defensive-Responsibility.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: 5? So tough to say, he could go nuts. Giving him time to "rest" during the last part of the season was a good idea.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: 3. The Caps almost filed a missing person report on Semin after the last playoff series, but still rewarded him with a contract to show they had faith. His mysterious injury (groin?) during the season also makes me wonder if the Rangers plan will be to rough him up and draw him into penalties or knock him out of the series.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: 2. The Caps' new defensive style should clamp down if they remember to backcheck all the way to the net -- and someone keep an eye on the third guy into the zone.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: 4,000. Seriously. If you've ever heard him in practice you'll hear a lot. With this series schedule stretched over two weeks, that's lots of time to drop.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: 10. He's salty, too, just not as much.

    X-Factor: For Rangers: Avery. Yes, the pest is the pivot point for all of New York -- and it's sad.

    In the crucial final game of the regular season, Tort didn't give him a sweater. Maybe it was because he got in a fight DURING PRACTICE, but that skirmish is easily overlooked if you think he can help you win. If Avery can draw the Caps into retaliatory penalties and maybe throw in a goal or two, he's the guy we'll love to hate. OK, we already hate him because he called our coach fat a few years back.

    For The Caps: Mike Green. Only Ovi was close to him in average ice time when both were healthy. Goalies love his ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone quickly, forwards love that he's an extra option in the offensive zone. Have the cobwebs fully cleared? If so, why didn't he play in Florida? Will the Rangers target him? If he does lace them up, he also has a couple of self-admitted less-than-stellar playoff performances he'd like to improve upon.

    To be clear, the Caps have shown they can win without Green, but they've also showed they are a much better team with him on the ice.

    Series Prediction: Caps in 5. The new system may not be conducive to lots of go-go offense, but that and some vets should push the Caps to at least the second round without much problem.

     

    Ryan O'Halloran, CSNwashington.com

    (CSNWashington.com and @ryanohalloran)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: Throw out the fact this is a 1 vs. 8 match, and the fact that the Capitals roll into the postseason, and that the Rangers needed to get hot late. Doesn't matter come 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Should be and will be Neuvirth ... at least for Game 1. He won a lot of big games during the regular season. Ultimately, I think the goalie of the future for this team is Braden Holtby. A key for Bruce Boudreau is to not make an early-series goalie change. He's 1-for-2 in the playoffs with that kind of decision.

    Matchup to Watch: Alex Ovechkin vs. Marc Staal. A lot of faces have changed since the teams played a seven-game series two years ago, but the coaches haven't and neither has the Capitals' best offensive player against New York's best shutdown defenseman. Don't discout Staal's partner on the blue line, Dan Girardi, who will go against No. 8 just as much.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: 4. I think he'll play a big role as a passer on the power play.

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: 2. He must break his goal-less streak at some point just by the fact he gets so much prime ice time.

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: 3. The Rangers need him to be their best player up front and I don't think he's up to it.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: 42. Thank goodness it is the easiest word in the English language to lip read.

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: 44. Ditto for Torts. I'll also add 0 for number of water bottles thrown into the stands.

    X-Factor: The Capitals' power play. It's why they blew a 3-1 lead to Montreal last year and it's why they can make a run this spring -- get it going early and it will give them leads, which would allow them to play more defensive hockey.

    Series Prediction: Capitals in 6 games.

     

     

    Dan Hellie, NBC Washington Sports Anchor

    (NBCWashington's Capital Games and @danhellie)

    Overall Thoughts on the Series: I was really worried about a matchup with the Rangers about a month ago. They pounded the Caps twice during the regular season by a combined 13-0 and were just one of those teams the Caps had problems with. It doesn't help that Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the game and almost always has the Caps' number.

    However, this is a different Caps team now, They seem to have finally embraced their identity after undergoing an in-season facelift that made them uglier to look at but much more effective on the defensive end.

    The Caps' Goaltender Should Be...: Doesn't really matter. Michal Neuvirth will be the first one to start, but if the road gets just a wee bit rocky, Varlamov will be in quickly.

    Honestly, Holtby was playing the best out of all of them, but they went with experience. That being said Neuvirth will be making his first NHL playoff start.

    Matchup to Watch: Neuvirth vs. Rangers' power play.

    Number of Ovechkin Goals in Series: 3

    Number of Semin Goals in Series: 0 (he hasn't scored in last 14 playoff games)

    Number of Gaborik Goals in Series: 1

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Boudreau: 48

    Number of F-Bombs Dropped by Tortorella: 98

    X-Factor: Mike Knuble. Bruce Boudreau calls him perhaps the team's best player the second half of the season. He has nine goals in last 13 games.

    Series Prediction: Caps win in 6. I'm going with that since that's what Eric Fehr predicted on "Sports Final" Sunday night.