NHL Playoffs 2011, Capitals Vs. Rangers Preview: Washington Tries To Shake Playoff Demons

The Capitals will square off against the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2011 NHL Playoffs. Here is our comprehensive series preview.

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Bruce Boudreau's Job Should Be Safe No Matter How Capitals Perform In 2011 NHL Playoffs

As the Capitals begin their quest for a Stanley Cup, the pressure on coach Bruce Boudreau is rising. But the idea that he could be on the hot seat after all he accomplished this season is nuts.

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NHL Playoffs 2011: Capitals Vs. Rangers Preview, Prediction: Washington In Six Games

The Washington Capitals are once again the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2011 NHL Playoffs and they will look to vanquish their playoff demons from the past two years when they square off against the No. 8 seed New York Rangers. Game 1 will take place on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on Versus and Comcast SportsNet, according to the 2011 NHL Playoffs Schedule.

In Part V of our preview, we'll make a prediction on the Capitals v. Rangers series.

The Capitals perhaps took the Rangers for granted two years ago in their first-round series. The Caps couldn't compete with the Rangers' defensive acumen and Henrik Lundqvist's world-class goaltending. The Caps experienced those things again during their season series, going 1-2-1 and scoring six goals in four games. This time, Washington will be ready.

With an unprecedented amount of playoff experience thanks to new acquisitions Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm and Scott Hannan, the Caps will figure out what it takes to win right away. On the other hand, New York's defensive corps is inexperienced and will have the tough task of shutting down Washington's explosive forwards.

Henrik Lundqvist is the key to this series. He can steal games, but if the Caps get to him, the Rangers won't be able to respond. The Caps will disrupt Lundqvist's play and shut down the Rangers with their new, playoff-like style of play.

PREDICTION: The Caps will beat the Rangers in six games.

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NHL Playoffs 2011: Capitals Vs. Rangers Preview: Michal Neuvirth Or Semyon Varlamov In Goal?

The Washington Capitals are once again the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2011 NHL Playoffs and they will look to vanquish their playoff demons from the past two years when they square off against the No. 8 seed New York Rangers. Game 1 will take place on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on Versus and Comcast SportsNet, according to the 2011 NHL Playoffs Schedule.

In Part IV of our preview, we'll take a look at the Capitals' two-headed goaltending tandem v. the Rangers' one-man kingdom.

The battle between the pipes in Washington has been one to watch all season long. Both Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have proven themselves worthy of earning the starting position, but who will ultimately claim that spot is still undecided.

While Varlamov battled injuries all season, Neuvirth stole the spotlight. A 27-12-4 record with a 2.45 GAA and 914 save percentage has established Neuvirth as a solid starter in the NHL. Varlamov, when healthy, has shown flashes of his past brilliance, going 11-9-5 with a 2.23 GAA and .924 save percentage.

Even with Neuvirth getting most of the starts, expect to see both him and Varlamov sharing duties during the playoffs. Head coach Bruce Boudreau has been known to put his goalies on a short leash. In each of the last two postseasons, Boudreau pulled appointed starter Jose Theodore after one game in favor of Varlamov.

The Rangers will have no such problem. Henrik Lundqvist has owned the crease for years on Broadway and that didn't change this season, as he went 36-27-5. "King Henrik" had a career-high and NHL-leading 11 shutouts this season, two of which came against the Caps. He has the ability to steal the series and almost did two years ago when these two teams met in the first round.

For the Caps to solve Lundqvist, they must create traffic in front of the net and look for dirty goals. Neuvirth and Varlamov will unite to help the Caps win, but whoever earns the starting job might do so for years to come, leaving the other one on the outside looking in.

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NHL Playoffs 2011, Capitals Vs. Rangers Preview: Washington Needs To Rediscover Power Play

The Washington Capitals are once again the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2011 NHL Playoffs and they will look to vanquish their playoff demons from the past two years when they square off against the No. 8 seed New York Rangers. Game 1 will take place on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on Versus and Comcast SportsNet, according to the 2011 NHL Playoffs Schedule.

In Part III of our preview, we'll take a look at the Capitals' struggling power play and strong penalty kill vs. the Rangers' mediocre play with the man advantage and dangerous penalty kill.

Along with their high-scoring offense, the Capitals lost their touch on the power play this season. For two straight seasons, the Caps finished with a power play percentage of 25 percent or higher. This season, the Caps struggled at 17.5 percent. Washington scored multiple power-play goals in a game only 10 times this season, not something one would expect from a power-play unit with several offensive superstars.

Yet, with the power play's failure came the penalty kill's success. Washington's penalty kill ranked second in the NHL at 85.6 percent.

New York's power play was actually worse than Washington's at 16.9 percent. The penalty kill ranked 10th at 83.7 percent and had 11 shorthanded goals on the season, including five from Brandon Prust.

Special teams will be something to watch in the series. Both teams have a great penalty kill to combat mediocre power plays. If Washington can keep its recent hot streak on the power play alive (5-for-10 in the last four games), it can swing the series in its favor.

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NHL Playoffs 2011, Capitals Vs. Rangers Preview: Injuries Hamper Capitals' Much-Improved Defense

The Washington Capitals are once again the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2011 NHL Playoffs and they will look to vanquish their playoff demons from the past two years when they square off against the No. 8 seed New York Rangers. Game 1 will take place on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on Versus and Comcast SportsNet, according to the 2011 NHL Playoffs Schedule.

In Part II of our preview, we'll take a look at the Capitals' improving, but banged-up defense (thanks to an injury to Dennis Wideman and the rusty return of Mike Green) vs. the Rangers' young, but stingy defensive corps.

"Defense" is not a word synonymous with the Capitals, but Washington's defense is vastly improved thanks to a healthy mix of youth and experience.

The Caps gave up only 2.33 goals per game, fourth-best in the NHL, down from last year's 2.77. The pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner is the team's youngest and brightest, having unmatched chemistry from several years of playing together. The veteran experience of Scott Hannan has helped them as well. Meanwhile, Jeff Schultz has struggled this season, going from a plus-50 to a plus-6.

The biggest problem with Washington's defense has been injuries. Green, Tom Poti and Wideman have all missed significant time with injuries. Poti hasn't played since mid-January because of a nagging groin injury. Wideman suffered a hematoma in his leg March 29 and is out for the first round. Green is planning to return from head injuries suffered February 6 and February 25, and will need to find his All-Star play quickly to give the Caps a chance.

The Rangers' defensive corps is incredibly young. Via Mike Vogel, 55 percent of the career games played by New York's unit have been by recently-acquired Bryan McCabe. Other than McCabe, none of the Rangers' defensemen are over the age of 27. The young group is led by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who are capable of blocking shots and shutting down their opponent's top line. Rookies Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh will enter their first postseason.

If New York wants any chance of winning this series, their defense will have to outplay both Washington's offense and defense.

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NHL Playoffs 2011, Capitals Vs. Rangers Preview: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Still Have Upper Hand Offensively

The Washington Capitals are once again the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2011 NHL Playoffs and they will look to vanquish their playoff demons from the past two years when they square off against the No. 8 seed New York Rangers. Game 1 will take place on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on Versus and Comcast SportsNet, according to the 2011 NHL Playoffs Schedule.

In Part I of our preview, we'll take a look at the Capitals' new-look offense v. the Rangers' deceptive offense.

For several years, the Capitals have been known throughout the NHL for having one of the highest-scoring offenses. That didn't happen this year. Last year's league-leading 313 total goals and 3.82 goals per game was replaced by an average of 219 total goals and 2.67 goals per game. Alex Ovechkin had a career-low 32 goals, Alexander Semin went three months without scoring a goal and Nicklas Backstrom's point production dropped 36 points. Despite all of that, the Caps still found a way to win the East.

The Rangers' offense, despite scoring more total goals (224) and goals per game (2.73) than the Caps, tended to disappear on occasion throughout the season. New York easily scored five or more goals in some games (which they did against the Caps twice this season), but also struggled to score two or three goals in other games. The Rangers have several forwards capable of changing a game (Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky), but will be shorthanded with Ryan Callahan out with a leg injury for the rest of the season.

If the series becomes a shootout, the Capitals outmatch the Rangers. A high-scoring game plays into the hands of Washington, regardless of New York's 18-6 scoring advantage in the season series.

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NHL Playoffs 2011, Capitals Vs. Rangers Preview: Washington Tries To Shake Playoff Demons

The Washington Capitals are once again the No. 1 seed in the East bracket of the 2011 NHL Playoffs, and they will look to vanquish their playoff demons from the past two years when they square off against the No. 8 seed New York Rangers. Game 1 will take place on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on Versus and Comcast SportsNet, according to the 2011 NHL Playoffs Schedule.

The Capitals will look to fare better as the East's top seed than they did last season, when they squandered a 3-1 lead and fell to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. The Rangers are returning to the postseason after just missing last season. Both teams are dealing with key injuries. The Capitals will be without defensemen Dennis Wideman and are seeing fellow defensemen Mike Green return to action for the first time since late February. The Rangers will be without winger Ryan Callahan.

We will be previewing this series in five parts on Tuesday, so stay tuned to this StoryStream for more updates. Also, be sure to check out Japers' Rink for all your Capitals needs. For more on the Rangers, check out Blueshirt Banter and SB Nation New York.

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