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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Let the Games Begin!

It is go-time.  It is officially the day that Game 1 will be played.  Bring on the Rangers!  

Yes, that lowly, 8th-seeded Rangers team - aka - the team that took 3 of 4 games from DC during the regular season.  

And let's not get into the score of two of those games.

I will say however, that I am glad the Rangers beat the Caps 6 to 0.  That game was right before the trade deadline.

It was a reminder to George McPhee that he couldn't stand pat.

I don't know what he was thinking or when, but he certainly could not have gotten away with doing nothing after that game.

Funny how things go in life.  As an "old school" Caps fan, I am supposed to favor match ups with former Patrick Division teams.

But the Rangers were so 2 years ago.  And I kind of wanted to see what it would be like to face the Hurricanes in the playoffs.

Alas, the Hurricanes had their chance and couldn't get it done.  The Rangers did.  

And so we play the Rangers.

Looking back to two years ago it seems that many people remember that the Caps won the series against the Rangers before losing to the Penguins in round 2.

(As an aside, that is the opposite of what happened in 1994, but I digress)

Many people remember Sergei Fedorov's goal 3/4 of the way through the 3rd period of Game 7.  They remember that the Caps won the game 2 to 1.

What is sometimes swept under the rug is that the Caps went down in the series 3 games to 1.  Included in that was dropping Games 1 and 2 at home.

The Caps were the 2-seed.  The Rangers were the 7-seed.  Yes, the Caps won, and got the franchise's first (and only) playoff win since 1998.

But, that series was disproportionately too close for comfort.  And while the Caps showed up in Games 5 and 6 to force a Game 7 -- they came out flat as a pancake in Game 7.

Let's remember that it was the Rangers that scored first in Game 7.  And quite frankly, Alexander Semin's equalizer was a fluke.

It was damn near 2-full periods later when Sergei Fedorov won it for DC.  There was a lot of jubilation in DC, to be sure.

But in my mind, it was mainly relief.  

Had the Caps not won that game and followed 2009 with the same 2010 loss to Montreal, Bruce Boudreau would have been fired last summer.  

No question about it.

But as in life, the hockey playoffs are a game of inches.  The Caps did win.  The 3-1 deficit quickly became a distant memory.  

And further, the Caps put on a hell of a show against the Penguins.  

I know.  The Caps blew a 2-0 series lead.  Again.

The Caps laid a big egg in Game 7.  And lost to Pittsburgh - AGAIN.

But, in totality, I take that series against the Penguins over the series against the Rangers any day of the week.

Of course, the Caps took their learnings from 2009 and learned in 2010 that they weren't suited for the 2nd- round.  But, let's pretend that never happened.

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Fast forward to now.  What does this all mean?

As much as I think that John Tortorella's "the pressure is on them" approach is worn-out, he obviously gets results from his teams.

The Rangers are confident.  And they will get a leadership boost from the return of Chris Drury.  They have shown an ability to defensively handle the Capitals too.

But rather than clamping down in a defensive shell, if the Caps are to win this series, they have to overcome the Rangers defense and light the lamp.

For some reason, I'm not worried about Henrik Lundqvist.  I get it, 11 shutouts.  

But, I think the Caps have an ability to break him.

Not just in the form of crashing the net.  But on first chance shots as well.  Let's not forget that Ovi has a rocket.  And so does Semin - who performed well against the Rangers in 2009.

Yes, the Caps need to create screens and crash the net for rebounds.  But they need to wear out King Hank's glove hand from minute 1 -- and open up the top shelf.

The offense is at full-force right now.  Everybody is healthy.  And if they aren't so predictable and lazy as they are when they are playing bad hockey, they should be fine.

Move the puck around.  Keep the Rangers on their toes.  Keep Hank moving laterally - get the open shot.

And they should get the puck in the net.

Skate down the middle.  Shoot from the blue line with nobody else in the zone. And you've basically just created a turnover.

Stick Green and Arnott on the points for the power-play.  Hopefully that will work enough magic to keep the Rangers from feeling they can take penalties whenever they want.

Neuvy will be fine.  I'm not worried about him. He's a cocky little SOB.  And he knows Varly and Holtby are waiting in the wings.

Something tells me he's a gamer.  Maybe the 14 playoff series he's won in North America.  I don't know.  But I think Neuvy will wind up matching Lundqvist's performance - if not bettering him.

I'm not worried about the Rangers offense.  As long as the Caps stay healthy on defense, they should be able to handle the Rangers attack.  Especially with Ryan Callahan out.

Wideman will be out.  Let's see how Green performs defensively?  He stepped up his defensive game in the regular season, but let's see if he can get it done in the playoffs. 

Fair or unfair, the last Caps/Rangers playoff memory of Jeff Schultz is from 2009 when Brandon Dubinsky broke his ankles and won Game 1.  But Schultz has stabilized since.  He should be ok.

Erskine did a marvelous job of handling Sean Avery in 2009.  I think he is underrated as all get-out.

Hannan is a rugged defenseman.  And hopefully the Carlzner wonder-boys will be a solid pairing.

But if one person gets injured, there really is no depth.  Tom Poti isn't ready to return.  Then it's on to Tyler Sloan, Brian Fahey, or Sean Collins.

Overall, the D should get it done, if healthy.  

As long as the offense steps up - we should be ok.  We are deep in goal.  Our penalty kill should be fine.

Hopefully, the power play will come to life as a result of the offense coming to life.

Long story short, the Caps control their own destiny.  They either want it and come out with intensity - or they suffer a fate more embarrassing than that of last season.

It's game time.  People have every right to question the Capitals' playoff toughness.  

The Caps have 1 playoff series win since 1998 - and it relied a little too much on luck for my taste.

They either want to do something about that or they don't.  They are either pissed off and ready to re-write history or they are confined to self-fulfilling prophecies.

It's up to them.  Now's the time.  

Show us what you're made of, Caps......




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