Season Series: It was a split of the four meetings, with each team winning once in the other's building. Braden Holtby, the 22-year-old who seized the starting goaltending job at the end of the season, appeared in the final meeting on the final day of the season. He made 35 saves in a 4-1 victory. Nicklas Backstrom, who missed a big chunk of time this season with a concussion, appeared in three games against the Rangers. The Caps went 2-1 in those games with Backstrom netting a goal and four assists. Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist went 2-1 in his three starts against but allowed nine goals in those games.
Big Story: This is the third time in four years the Caps and Rangers will face off in the postseason. The Caps won in seven games in 2009 and five games in 2011. In their last eight meetings in the playoffs, the Caps are 7-1. Both goalies were outstanding in their conference quarterfinal series. Holtby won his four games with a 2.49 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Lundqvist allowed 12 goals in seven games, finishing with a 1.97 GAA and .930 save percentage.
Capitals: After years of entering the playoffs as a high seed with higher expectations, the seventh-seeded Caps pulled an upset of their own in the first round. They defeated the defending-champion Boston Bruins in seven games, winning the final game at TD Garden in overtime.
Coach Dale Hunter has instilled a defensive work ethic and close-to-the-vest style that has translated into victories. After years of disappointment, the Caps are into the second round as a lower seed.
"[I'm] just excited," forward Brooks Laich said. "You're excited you’re moving on. It's our dream to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and play for the Cup. There's been some frustration here in the past and to move on, to beat a good team and to move on, we're excited."
The Caps took care of the Rangers in round one last season in a 1-8 matchup before losing in the second round to the lower-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning. This time, the Caps are the underdog looking to carry their momentum into the conference semifinals with Holtby leading the charge.
"You know, [Holtby] is a unique kid," Hunter said. "Nothing fazes him. He's a battler. You know whatever he does he's going to try his best, and he gets rewarded for it. He's got great character, and the guys love him. When you call your goalie in net like a warrior, he's one of the guys like that."
Rangers: Down 3-2 in their series with the Ottawa Senators, the Rangers never wavered in their belief that they would win the next two games. They proved everyone right by rallying to win Game 6 in Ottawa and hanging on for a 2-1 win in Game 7 to avoid the upset.
The mentality and resiliency was nothing new for the Rangers.
"I really felt we were going to go into Ottawa and win," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "And I'm not saying that because we did it. I told our guys that have followed our club all year long that this is a good group and they've been resilient all year long. This sets you up for a foundation. Things happen for a reason. We'll lean on this as we get to the next round and it'll work to our advantage."
Now the Rangers must find a way to beat the Caps, a team that has owned them in the postseason in recent years. There are a lot of similarities between this year's and last year's rosters, but the Rangers don't believe anything that happened in the past matters now.
"The past is the past," Lundqvist said. "I don't think about what happened last year or whatever. It's different teams. We're in a different place and they're in a different place. I'm going to approach it the same way I approached this one, not overthink it or try to do too much. Their top guys are really talented and can make some big plays out of nothing, so we have to be ready."
Who's Hot:Alex Ovechkin's ice time, or lack thereof against the Bruins, was a big story, but he still had two goals and three assists in seven games vs. Boston. … Lundqvist had a great series, but center Derek Stepan looks like a new player with a goal and three assists in the final two games against the Ottawa. They are his first postseason points after going scoreless in his first 10 games.
Injury Report: With goaltender Michal Neuvirth healthy enough to back up Holtby in Game 7 vs. Boston, Tomas Vokoun's groin injury is the only lingering ailment for the Caps. … Rangers center Brian Boyle (concussion) missed the final two games of the series with the Senators. There is no update on his status.
Stat Pack: Last year's matchup ended with the Caps winning in five, but the Rangers were 20 minutes away from making the series far more interesting. The Rangers were down 2-1 in the series but took a three-goal lead into the third period on home ice in Game 4. The Caps erased the deficit and prevailed in overtime to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series and closed it out three nights later at home.
Puck Drop: "It was a different feeling. It's hard to compare them. One is in their building, one is here. I think this year's team finishing first has a lot more confidence than the team finishing eighth. I think the way we played all year has helped us be ready for situations like this, especially going into Ottawa and getting that game. Our resilience and our work ethic get the job done every night." -- Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, on how his team has grown since losing in Game 7 to the Caps in 2009