Rangers getting an ideal matchup in return to D.C.
|Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, shown here in his last visit to the Verizon Center, said the current Capitals are a much better team than the one the Blueshirts routed twice over the past regular season.
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|Prust and Sauer Discuss Facing Capitals
|Lundqvist, McCabe on Returning to the Playoffs
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WASHINGTON (AP) - On Dec. 12 at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers utterly dominated the Washington Capitals, beating the team that would go on to finish first in the Eastern Conference standings with a 7-0 blowout at Madison Square Garden.
That game -- well-documented by HBO cameras for a 24/7 series that aired just days later -- marked Washington's sixth straight loss. One of the many highlights for Rangers fans that night was seeing Washington captain Alex Ovechkin become so frustrated that he got into a rare fight with Brandn Dubinsky in the second period.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was so upset with his team's performance in the game that made a major decision. No longer would the Capitals be the up-and-down, high-scoring team that coasted to the NHL's best regular-season record in 2009-10. The system was going to change. Defensive accountability was the new theme. And this would happen in midseason -- not in training camp -- the sports equivalent of tinkering with the car while driving 70 mph down the interstate.
When the Rangers arrive at the Verizon Center tonight for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff series, they'll face a Capitals team that is less elegant and more workmanlike than the one they routed during the Christmas shopping season.
Washington was already playing its new system when the Rangers went down to the Verizon Center and routed the Capitals 6-0 on Feb. 25 behind a career-high four points from Erik Christensen. However, the Caps were still adjusting to the new style and after that other fateful beating from the Rangers, Washington went on to win 16 of its last 20 regular season games to again claim the conference's top seed.
"We played them a couple of games when they were struggling a little bit," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
, whose team won three of four against the Capitals this season. "Now I think they're a better team. They have more confidence and their top players are playing well. It's going to be a lot tougher for us to get the wins, but we're a confident group right now."
The Rangers and Capitals are remarkably close in many statistical categories and now play similar close-to-the-vest schemes that should produce mostly tight, low-scoring games.
Given what happened last year, when Washington blew a 3-1 series lead and was eliminated by the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens, the Blueshirts hardly have to feel like a longshot to pull off a series upset.
"I feel any team is pretty dangerous in the playoffs," Rangers left wing Ruslan Fedotenko
said. "Here you have one versus eight and other things, but it's a whole new game."