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.