The Washington Capitals know all about the New York Rangers. They know all about their superstar goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The two teams have faced each other four out of the last five post seasons with a few of the series going to seven games. The Capitals’ entire roster (except for five players) has been present for at least one of those previous playoff encounters with the Rangers. The two teams meet again on Thursday night.
“They’re a real physical team. It’s going to be a tough opponent. Obviously, we have a little bit of history with them,” said forward Eric Fehr. “We’ve played them a number of times. It’s going to be a man’s series, no question. They’ve got a lot of big guys and they like to play physical. It’s a good challenge for us.”
“Definitely it’s going to be tough matches all the time,” said captain Alex Ovechkin, who picked up his third Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer over the weekend. “We just have to play simple and play our game. If we’re going to play our game, we’re going to get success. In the playoffs, you have to give everything you can to get success.”
He’s correct of course, and if the ‘total package’ Alex Ovechkin steps forward on Thursday and stays the course then the Capitals will win the Stanley Cup. It’s not a difficult puzzle to master: Ovi plays his ‘A’ game and the men in red take every team they face to the cleaners.
Who does Ovechkin need to supply him with that puck? Nicklas Backstrom. The unselfish Swede is always in the right place at the right time and is ultimately the cornerstone of the team. Add Mike Riberio, Troy Brouwer and all the other powerhouse forwards to the mix and the Capitals have a recipe for victory in the series. Add a defensive unit, which includes the NHL’s leading defenseman goal scorer (Mike Green), and they have one hand on the Stanley Cup already.
The Caps turned their game around this year thanks in part to new head coach Adam Oates. He’s the kind of coach who doesn’t yell and scream expletives at his players, like some Capital coaches of yesteryear, rather Oates will take each player under his arm and give them clear direction. It shows.
“He’s always reinforced, since ‘Day 1,’ that he believes in us and we’re his guys. He’s right behind us,” said Green recently of Oates. “He’s the pulse behind the whole team. We go out and do business, but he’s the heartbeat behind it.”
Also of extreme importance to the Caps’ success is the man between the pipes. Braden Holtby proved that he can excel in the post season by staying cool under pressure in both seven game series in 2011-2012 against the Bruins and Rangers.
Nothing seems to faze Holtby, and a confident goalie behind a confident team is another reason why I’ll be writing about the Capitals’ semi-final match up in a couple of weeks.