With five days between the end of the regular season and the Capitals first playoff game tonight, the plethora of previews probably has your head swimming. Instead of just breaking it down, the shot blocking of the Rangers and the Caps' hot power play, instead let us take a gander at maybe the less talked about preview of this matchup. The game inside the game.
In the three games the Capitals and the Rangers have faced off against this abbreviated season, the Rangers holds the edge with a 2-0-1. All the games have been close and the pair of losses came at a time when the Caps were struggling with their game.
First game was "Hockey Day in America" and all American John Carlson scored and the Rangers' power play solidified the win in the third period. Second game was a exercise in what would happen if you took too many penalties. Ends up being a 4-1 loss. Third game all of the scoring came in the first period and the Caps lost a two goal lead but won it in the shootout.
But in that small sampling of games, already a small rivalry brews. What happens with out the puck maybe be more exciting than the game itself (not really, but come along for the ride anyway). Here are my four things to watch for in the series between the Rangers and Capitals.
1. Mike Ribeiro vs. Michael Del Zotto - In game two the pair got tangled up in front of the net where Del Zotto got a little stick happy on Ribz. The Cap winger popped him one in the face and the pair went off for roughing. While Del Zotto may not have any responsibility against Ribeiro's line, the two seem to have a dis like for one another. Del Zotto may try to goad number 9 into taking a bad penalty which could lead to some fireworks between the pair.
2. Captain O' Captain - Team Captains Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Callahan had there little game of who can get under the others skin. The pair exchanged stick jabs in the third game. While it didn't lead to blows, what the pair will do next should be interesting. Callahan does give up some 100 lbs. to Ovechkin, so what ever happens, I presume Ovi will be fine.
3. Holtby's chip - Life rarely has any do overs, but for goaltender Braden Holtby this is a chance for some retribution to last season's 7 game series loss. Holtby should be beyond the point of total focus. Watching his counter part in Henrick Lundqvist should make for some outstanding goaltending in this series.
4. Erskine and Clowe - Two big men will be facing off mostly in front of one Holtby. Johne Erskine, 6'4" 220, and Ryane Clowe, 6'2" 225, will be two big bodies on the ice fighting for space in front of the net. being aware of the pair for some big hits and some great battles in the slot.
I picked the Caps to win in seven games. It will come down to special teams and if the Caps' power play can stay hot. They also have to help themselves by not taking penalties and being physical but not overly physical that could draw penalties. The Rangers' have a good power play too and the Capitals penalty kill is in the "okay" zone.