Rangers face Capitals in possible playoff preview
Friday, 04.06.2012 / 2:12 PM
Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff WriterCAPITALS (41-32-8) at RANGERS (51-23-7)
TV: NBCSN (HD)
Washington 5-3-2; New York 7-3-0
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season. The Rangers have taken two of three in the series, winning 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 12 in their most recent contest.
There are all kinds of big stories involved in this season finale. If the Rangers win they are guaranteed the Presidents' Trophy for the first time since 1993-94. A Rangers victory of any kind means these teams will meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in four years. The Capitals, meanwhile, can win the Southeast Division and grab the No. 3 seed with a victory and a loss by the Florida Panthers. The Caps ran rise to seventh with a victory and a regulation loss by the Ottawa Senators in a game that will take place earlier in the day.
A 4-2 victory against the Panthers on Thursday came at a heavy price. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth
was forced to leave the contest with a left leg injury, and coach Dale Hunter didn't provide a concrete update on Neuvirth's status Friday. Starter Tomas Vokoun
is already day-to-day with a groin issue and won't be available vs. the Rangers.
That leaves 22-year-old Braden Holtby
to get the job done in net. He's 3-2-1 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .910 save percentage this season.
"It has been an up-and-down season, but now we can start fresh," forward Jason Chimera
said. "We've got all our guys back healthy, and some goalies to heal up, but (Holtby) stood up and did a great job. This is just a great feeling."
On Thursday in Pittsburgh, sparks were flying in a 5-2 loss to the Penguins at Consol Energy Center. With the game all but over in the final minutes, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik was issued a five-minute major penalty for kneeing the Rangers' Derek Stepan
John Tortorella exploded afterward, ripping the entire Penguins organization and earning himself a $20,000 fine from the League. What really matters is the health of Stepan, who serves as the team's second-line center. He did not practice Friday, but teammates told reporters they felt he would be fine for the postseason and perhaps play against the Capitals.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
was given the night off against the Penguins, partly because of a bruised right arm. Lundqvist told reporters at practice Friday that he wasn't able to grip his stick with all five fingers, but he wanted to play against the Caps in the finale.
Caps winger Alexander Semin
has two goals and two assists in his past three games. … Rangers forward Artem Anisimov
enters the game with goals in consecutive contests.
The Capitals will be without Neuvirth (leg) and Vokoun (groin). Defenseman John Erskine
(lower body) has played one game since Jan. 31. … Stepan (knee) is a question mark for the Rangers. Defenseman Michael Sauer
is on injured reserve with a concussion, while defenseman Steve Eminger
(sprained right ankle), and forward Mats Zuccarello
(left wrist surgery) are out indefinitely.
The Rangers have eight power-play goals in their last six games. They had eight power-play goals in their previous 18 games. … In his three games back from a concussion, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom
has no points and is a minus-3 while playing a little more than 19 minutes per game.
"It doesn't matter which position you are. It doesn't matter what's the standings right now. It's most important thing to win. Next game most important thing; right now for us it's ready for the playoffs." -- Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin