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Posted On Sunday, 05.13.2012 / 12:15 AM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Hunter won't talk about his future with Caps

NEW YORK -- Moments after the Washington Capitals lost Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series to the New York Rangers, coach Dale Hunter was asked about his future with the organization.

"[It's] not the time right now," Hunter said.

That time is going to come pretty soon, though. When Hunter agreed to replace Bruce Boudreau as the team's coach in November, he reportedly signed a one-year deal through the remainder of the 2011-12 season.

That means he and the organization have a decision to make. Several players have said they would like to see Hunter return next season, as has general manager George McPhee.

Hunter left the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League to coach in the NHL for the first time. He and his brother Mark are co-owners of the team. Before taking this job, Dale Hunter was the coach and vice president of the Knights while his brother was the team's president. Mark Hunter replaced Dale behind the bench, and the Knights will begin play in the Memorial Cup later this week.

"We do our best and it's probably best team I played [on]," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "You know, group of guys and atmosphere, everybody was - it's unbelievable to play and I hope everybody gonna stay here 'til next year."

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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 7:09 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Beagle out, Halpern in for Caps

NEW YORK -- Capitals forward Jay Beagle will not be in the lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Rangers on Saturday night, as he did not take part in pregame warmups.

Beagle missed Game 6 of the series on Wednesday with a lower-body injury and did not participate in the game-day skate at Madison Square Garden. He was replaced in the lineup by Jeff Halpern, who had been a healthy scratch since March 23 and will once again be in the lineup. Halpern was a minus-1 in 10:23 of ice time in the Caps' series-tying 2-1 win.

In 12 playoff games, Beagle has one goal and one assist.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers, Caps try to stay loose before Game 7

NEW YORK -- Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman hurled three wadded up balls of tape in the general direction of Jason Chimera, who at the time was surrounded by media and doing an on-camera interview at his locker

The atmosphere wasn't as relaxed in the Rangers' room, but it wasn't exactly filled with human beings who were on edge and biting their nails.

What, the Caps and the Rangers worry about playing in a Game 7?

The decisive game Saturday in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal series doesn't appear to placing any added stress on these teams, who were both a loose bunch following their game-day skates at Madison Square Garden.

"It's important to be loose and joking around," said Rangers forward Mike Rupp, who will play in his sixth career Game 7. "Our team has a lot of that going on. I've found when I was younger I'd gauge off the older guys how relaxed they were. I think you can go out and be a little too fired up, so you have to channel that emotion in a certain way."

Once the throng of reporters cleared from Chimera, he fired the balls of tape back in Wideman's direction but hit fellow defenseman Mike Green, who fired a stern glare back at Chimera before cracking a smile.

Caps defenseman John Carlson walked toward his locker after leaving the ice to find center Nicklas Backstrom in his spot, fielding questions from journalists. The 22-year-old jokingly asked for a public-relations person to clear Backstrom from his locker before forcing him out of the area.

"I think we always like to have fun," Carlson said. "Everyone goes out and their morning-skate routines are different. Some guys need to take some things out of it, some people want to work on other things. I think everyone just goes out there and gets what they need to feel the best that night, and I think that for some guys, that's being relaxed."

If these teams are nervous about their seasons being on the line, they certainly aren't showing it.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 12:59 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Caps, Rangers boast wealth of Game 7 experience

NEW YORK -- The Capitals and Rangers both went through Game 7s in the first round, so playing another one Saturday night for the right to play in the Eastern Conference Final isn't anything new or jarring.

Each team has a few players that bring a "been there, done that" attitude.

Washington's Roman Hamrlik will play in his ninth Game 7, while Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin will suit up for the sixth Game 7 of their Capitals careers -- all in the past five seasons.
 
New York's Ruslan Fedotenko and Mike Rupp will also play in their sixth Game 7. Rupp is 2-3 in his Game 7 appearances, while Fedotenko is a perfect 5-0 with three goals and an assist in those contests.

"I heard one of those guys talking about it yesterday, that it's one of those special days," Rupp said. "It just feels different, like a birthday. It's a special day on the calendar. It's not an ordinary game. You approach it the same way, but we all know what a special night and opportunity it is to play in a Game 7."

Backstrom, Green, Laich and Ovechkin were part of the 2009 squad that rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Rangers in the conference quarterfinals. They were also there two weeks ago when the Capitals won Game 7 in Boston to eliminate the Bruins in the first round.

"We're calm, but we're excited," said Laich, who has a goal and three assists in five Game 7s. "We're ready to play. This group has been through a lot of them. This is our sixth and some people don't play three in their entire career. For whatever reason, we seem to find ourselves in these situations. You have to just trust your stuff and don't overcomplicate things."

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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 12:51 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Lundqvist absent, but Tortorella says he's 'just dandy'

NEW YORK -- Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and forward Marian Gaborik were the only two Rangers who didn't participate in the optional morning skate Saturday. Lundqvist has been known to take skip game-day skates if there is a full practice the previous, but this is the first time he's done it in the playoffs.

Rangers coach John Tortorella said Lundqvist is "just dandy" and will play in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Rangers forwards Brandon Dubinsky (lower body) and Mats Zuccarello (wrist) are out. Dubinsky made a brief appearance in the locker room this morning without the aid of a boot or crutches and said he, "defers all questions to Torts" about his injury status. Dubinsky did not participate in the optional skate.

The only true question mark in terms of availability is Caps forward Jay Beagle, who will be a game-time decision due to a lower-body injury. He missed Game 6 of the series and did not participate in the morning skate Saturday.

Here are the projected lineups for Game 7:

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Nicklas Backstrom - Alexander Semin
Joel Ward - Matt Hendricks - Troy Brouwer
Keith Aucoin - Jeff Halpern - Mike Knuble

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

RANGERS

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Ruslan Fedotenko - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 12:33 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Beagle unlikely for Caps in Game 7

NEW YORK -- It appears as though Capitals forward Jay Beagle will not be in the lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Rangers on Saturday night, although coach Dale Hunter said "game-time" when asked about Beagle's status.

Beagle missed Game 6 of the series with a lower-body injury and did not participate in the game-day skate at Madison Square Garden. He was replaced in the lineup by Jeff Halpern, who had been a healthy scratch since March 23. Halpern was a minus-1 in 10:23 of ice time in the Caps' 2-1 win. Beagle hasn't skated with the team since blocking a shot with right leg during Game 5.

Capitals forward Alexander Semin was also absent from the team's optional practice, but Hunter said he Semin will be in the lineup.

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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 4:04 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Capitals have mostly avoided injury bug in playoffs

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When a team plays in as many close games as the Washington Capitals have this postseason, there is bound to be some luck involved.

One area where the Capitals have had some good fortune is in the trainer's room. Every team has players dealing with minor injuries at this point of the season, but when Jay Beagle missed Game 6 against the New York Rangers, he became the first player to miss a contest because of injury this postseason.

"Guys have been playing hard, and it is a little surprising," veteran forward Mike Knuble said. "That Boston series was a physical series. It just seems like there is always somebody tweaking something and missing a game or two here or there. Knock on wood, we've avoided the big one, and Jay is the first guy to go down."

Dealing with injuries goes beyond man-games lost in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Capitals know that as well as any team. Past postseason failures have been littered with guys, often critical guys, trying to play through an injury because that's what hockey players do at this time of the year.

Brooks Laich played through a postseason with a broken foot. Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have played with a broken thumb. Mike Green has had multiple postseasons marred by multiple injuries, and he did finally miss time at the end of the series against Tampa Bay last year because of a shoulder ailment. Even Alex Ovechkin, who just scored his 30th goal in 50 career postseason games, has played through injury in years' past.

Some of the Capitals are certainly playing through pain right now as they prepare for Game 7 against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. But both Knuble and Karl Alzner admitted the team has had better luck with injuries than in years' past, and the club is relatively healthy -- sans for Beagle, who didn't skate again Friday and seems doubtful for Game 7.

"We are [healthier]," Alzner said. "I think we're very fortunate with the style of hockey we've been playing that we don't have as many injuries as we've had in the past. I mean, guys are taking care of themselves really well and the trainers are making sure everybody is healing up. We're very, very fortunate that is the case right now.

"It is very nice. We just hope that nothing goes the wrong way. That's all you can really do. Injuries are going to happen, and teams that are the deepest are going to figure it out the best."
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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers not concerned with low offensive totals

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The Rangers aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard on the way to what could be their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 1997.

Entering Game 7 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers rank 11th in scoring at 2.08 goals per game and are last among the teams still remaining in the postseason.

The Rangers haven't scored more than three goals in a game since Game 1 against Ottawa and have been held to two goals or fewer in nine of 13 games.

Despite that avalanche of statistical information condemning the offense, Brad Richards doesn't see it as a problem heading into Game 7.

"It's really one game," Richards said. "If we win 1-0, it's the same as if we win 5-1. You play the game the way it's being played, and we're not going to abandon our structure just because people are writing about lack of scoring. We just have to win a game."

The Rangers haven't generated much offensively and neither have the Capitals in what has been an extremely tight series. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is a major reason the Rangers are still alive in the postseason with their lack of scoring, posting a 1.73 goals-against average.

Lundqvist said he wouldn't mind some additional support, but understands there isn't much room in the Caps' defensive zone.

"They've been playing pretty tight in their own end," Lundqvist said. "It's tough for us to create scoring chances. I hope that changes tomorrow and we come out and play our best game of the year."

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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 1:35 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Kreider back on Rangers' second line at practice

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It's been a roller-coaster month for Chris Kreider with more ups and downs than an elevator in a high-rise office building.

If the line combinations at Rangers practice Friday are any indication, the 21-year-old rookie looks like he's on his way back up again.

Kreider was back on the team's second line on the left wing with center Derek Stepan and right wing Ryan Callahan after spending the past two games playing limited minutes on the fourth line. A gaffe by Kreider in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals led directly to a goal by Alex Ovechkin, and Rangers coach John Tortorella has reined in Kreider ever since.

Kreider was averaging about 17 minutes per game from Game 7 of the Rangers' first-round series against Ottawa up until Game 2 against the Capitals and played 26:17 in New York's 2-1 triple-overtime victory in Game 3.

But since the blunder in Game 4, Kreider hasn't cracked the seven-minute barrier. If he's back with Stepan and Callahan, that will likely change Saturday night in Game 7.

"It always takes a while, especially in this situation, for him to understand how we play, especially the defensive part," Tortorella said. "Really, we haven't overloaded him with too much. That's going to be a process he needs to go through next year. It doesn’t happen overnight. As we've gone through here, we've given him the foundation of it, not overload him, because you just don't want to turn him into a robot."

It took a few games for Kreider to earn Tortorella's trust after signing with the team right before the start of the postseason after winning two national titles in three years with Boston College. Kreider's debut in the NHL was accelerated when left wing Carl Hagelin was suspended for Games 3-5 of the Ottawa series for an elbow to the head of Daniel Alfredsson.

Kreider improved enough that he stayed in the lineup after Hagelin's return. He scored the winning goal in Game 6 vs. the Senators and had a goal and an assist in Game 1 vs. the Capitals. But Kreider hasn't registered a point since and knows he needs to be better.

"I think my role has been the same in my time that I've been here, regardless of the line I'm playing on," Kreider said. "They probably want more of the same, trying to win puck battles, trying to beat guys to pucks. I think I've learned things every single game regardless of the minutes I've played. It's little nuances, little details."

Kreider was a combined minus-4 between Games 3 and 5 of this series. He said his diminished role in recent games was a motivator to show he can be effective in Game 7.

"I think so," Kreider said. "I think it's kind of hard not to be motivated regardless of the situation here, playing big minutes or small minutes. I was pretty inspired and motivated throughout the playoffs."

With Kreider on the second line, forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who has zero goals in 13 games in the playoffs, was on the fourth line with Mike Rupp and John Mitchell. Here's how the lines all looked at practice Friday:

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Ruslan Fedotenko - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 1:04 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Carlson shakes 'sophomore slump' during playoffs

ARLINGTON, Va. -- There were flashes of the dreaded "sophomore slump" for Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson this season, but he's picked the right time to be playing some of his best hockey.

Carlson had a fantastic rookie campaign in 2010-11, his first full season in the NHL, teaming up with fellow young defenseman Karl Alzner to form the team's most trusted pairing, while also racking up seven goals and 37 points.

He finished this regular season with nine goals and 32 points, but his work in the defensive end eroded. Plus-minus isn't a tell-all stat, but Carlson's drop from plus-21 to minus-15 was jarring. Carlson did score in the season finale against Florida, but that ended one of two droughts of six weeks or more without a tally.

"I think towards the end of the season I started getting my legs back under me, felt a lot better about myself and my game," Carlson said. "I think it is just a progression thing. I was confident that I could do it and get back to where I needed to be and I think that I'm playing good now."

Carlson's play has been much improved this postseason. He has two goals and five points in the 13 games, but four of the points have come in the past seven.

He's also played more than 20 minutes in every postseason game but one, and more than 30 minutes twice. Paired every night with Alzner, they are again back to being Washington's shutdown pairing.

"He's been playing really well," Hunter said. "He's been physical and jumping up in the play and creating offense. But also they got a tough job of dealing with the top line every night. Him and [Alzner] are doing a great job."

Added Carlson: "I don't know. I think it seems like I'm getting some bounces, getting some breaks. It feels like I am seeing the rush a little bit more and trying to join the play if I can if it is not detrimental to my team."

Carlson did get a nice bounce in Game 6. His shot from the right point went off Nicklas Backstrom's skate and skipped toward the left post -- just where Jason Chimera was waiting for an easy tap-in goal.

He isn't the only young defenseman with elite potential to struggle at times during his second full NHL season. Montreal's P.K. Subban also struggled at times this season. So too did Los Angeles' Drew Doughty during his sophomore campaign.

Carlson does appear to have figured it out, and has moved on.

"It's over now, so it doesn't matter," he said.

Added Hunter: "I think every player goes through it; it's a long season. When it counts in the playoffs, he's been a horse for us."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 12:32 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Status of Beagle for Game 7 is uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter said checking-line center Jay Beagle is "day-to-day" after missing Game 6 with lower-body injury and didn't say if he would return to the lineup for Game 7 against the New York Rangers.

"We don't know for sure yet," Hunter said when asked if Beagle might join the team for practice Friday.

Beagle didn't skate Tuesday or Wednesday before Game 6, but Hunter said before the game that he would play. Mike Vogel, senior writer for capitals.nhl.com and reporter for Caps 365, reported on Twitter that Beagle was in the dressing room putting his equipment on but the injury "did not repsond as he and team had hoped."

Jeff Halpern replaced Beagle in the lineup. Brooks Laich said he didn't know Beagle was out until the team was on the ice for warm-ups. Beagle blocked a shot in Game 5 with his right leg, which is likely what caused the injury.

Beagle has become one of Washington's most critical players and one of Hunter's most trusted guys, often logging big minutes against top competition in this postseason.
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 1:12 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Ovechkin: 'We just can't go home right now'

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin will all skate in their 50th career playoff games when the Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers Wednesday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals (7:30 p.m, ET, NBCSN, CBC).

In their first 49 playoff games, all with Washington and all since 2008, Ovechkin, Laich and Semin have faced elimination in a Game 6 three times. The Caps forced a Game 7 in all three instances.

They have no choice but to make it 4-for-4 if they hope to extend their 2012 postseason as they trail the Rangers 3-2 with Game 6 at Verizon Center.

"You don't want the season to start over for next year," Ovechkin said. "And you don't want season be ended tonight. It's going to be do-or-die. Right now everybody knows and everybody understands we just can't go home right now.

"I don't think we deserve to end the season. Everybody knows, I think, we [have a] good hockey club. We beat the Stanley Cup champion in Game 7 at home. … Last game they got a little luck… Tonight is going to be different game and tonight is going to be a much different atmosphere."

The Capitals will look to take advantage of the home crowd just as they did at the start of Game 4 when they outshot the Rangers 14-3 in the first period and led 1-0 at the first intermission.

The Rangers replied with a strong start of their own in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, outshooting the Caps 17-4 in the opening 20 minutes and grabbing a 1-0 lead.

Washington is 6-1 in the playoffs when scoring first; 0-5 when allowing the first goal.

"Tonight being down a game, we’re going to be desperate and we're going to throw everything at them," Troy Brouwer said. "We've played good in the games when we've been down in the series, and tonight especially being at home, we should have a lot of jump, we should have a lot of excitement in the building and we should be able to come out hard."

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 12:40 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Projected Game 6 lineup for Rangers

WASHINGTON -- The only Ranger who didn't participate in practice at Verizon Center on Wednesday morning was Brandon Dubinsky, who remains out with a lower-body injury. Forward Mats Zuccarello was once again participating, but he told reporters Tuesday that he is still about two weeks away from being ready for a game.

If the lines that Rangers coach John Tortorella used for Game 5 hold, this is what the team will look like when they take the ice for Game 6 with a chance to eliminate the Washington Capitals:

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Derek Stepan - Brandon Prust
Chris Kreider -John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 12:36 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Richards living up to billing as big-game player

WASHINGTON -- Brad Richards had his ups and downs during the regular season. He had two goals and no assists over 10 games in December and followed that with a stretch of three points in 12 games between January and February.

During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as is his modus operandi, he's been coming up big.

Richards is fifth in postseason scoring with 10 points in 12 games, including what could've been a season-saving goal with 6.6 seconds remaining in regulation to tie Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the Capitals on Monday night. The Rangers would go on to win in overtime and take a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 scheduled for Wednesday night in Verizon Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

In his postseason career, Richards has 72 points in 75 games and had seven-game winning goals during the Tampa Bay Lightning's run to Stanley Cup Final in 2004 when he also won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Rangers coach John Tortorella is known for his short answers, but it was fitting in this case when he was asked what makes Richards so good in the playoffs.

"He’s got 'it,'" said Tortorella, who coached Richards for seven seasons in Tampa Bay.

"I've known him since he was a kid, when he broke into the League," he said, "and he's made big plays at key times."

With the Rangers staring elimination in the eye in Game 6 against the Ottawa Senators in the conference quarterfinals, Richards put his team ahead for good by uncorking a slap shot during a 5-on-3 power play that ripped past goaltender Craig Anderson.

Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko was Richards' teammate in Tampa Bay four seasons, including 2004, and knows what Richards means to the Rangers' chances of winning a Stanley Cup this year.

"He's a good player. That's why the team got him in free agency -- to help us win the Cup," Fedotenko said. "One guy can't do it, but he's a big piece to the puzzle. He knows how to compete in the playoffs."

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 12:30 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Fedotenko feels Rangers should come out aggressive

WASHINGTON -- Facing elimination Wednesday night at Verizon Center, the Capitals will most likely come out with a strong push in the first period against the Rangers, who lead the Eastern Conference Semifinal series 3-2.

Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who has played in 100 postseason games, said the key to facing a desperate team isn't weathering the first-period storm; it's actually the opposite.

"I say initiate it and just go for it, not sitting and weathering anything," Fedotenko said. "It's do-or-die. The other team is desperate. That's always the hardest game to win for the team that's trying to close it out. I feel like that's the biggest game for everybody."

The Rangers are one of the League's youngest teams, but they channeled their emotions positively when facing elimination in two instances during the first round against Ottawa. That's nothing new for Fedotenko, who has won two Stanley Cups in his career with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

"For me, it's easier to control because I can focus on the bigger picture and whatever's happening, just deal with it," Fedotenko said. "For other people, maybe it's harder to control the emotion. Everybody wants to win."

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 12:00 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Beagle doesn't practice, but Capitals say he'll play

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals have long described Jay Beagle as a teammate who treats every practice like a Game 7.

But with the Capitals looking to extend their Eastern Conference Semifinal series to a decisive seventh game, Beagle was the lone absentee from Washington's morning skate ahead of Game 6 Wednesday against the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC).

"He's fine," coach Dale Hunter said of his third line center. "I'm just resting his legs… He's fine. He's going to play."

Beagle blocked a shot from Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman early in the second period of Game 5 that got a piece of his leg. Beagle was limping after the blocked shot and played under 15 minutes for just the third time in his last 14 games.

"He's been big for us," Troy Brouwer said. "He's been great on the penalty kill, he's our only right-handed centerman and he's taken a lot of draws and done real well in that aspect. He does a great job out there, he kind of gets overlooked on this team, but he deserves a lot of credit for how he's played so far in the playoffs."

Added Karl Alzner: "Jay's been logging tons of minutes and he's been doing all the key things that have been helping us succeed, the little areas that a lot of times go unnoticed but are extremely important. Regardless of what happens, somebody else has a chance to do it now if he's not in the lineup."

While Hunter dismissed the possibility of Beagle missing Game 6, it appears that a contingency plan may be in place.

Veteran Jeff Halpern came off the ice Wednesday morning at the same time as the rest of the Caps' regulars instead of staying out for extra work with the healthy scratches.

Halpern has been a healthy scratch in 19 straight games dating back to the regular-season and in 24 of Washington's last 27 games.

The 36-year-old declined to comment on his status for tonight. If Beagle cannot play, Halpern could serve as the Caps' only right-handed center. Halpern led the Caps and was fifth in the League with a 58.3 faceoff percentage during the regular-season.

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Posted On Tuesday, 05.08.2012 / 5:12 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Stralman has refined game since joining Rangers

NEW YORK -- John Tortorella didn't know much about Anton Stralman when the Rangers signed the defenseman in November, and he wasn't all that enamored with his game after he watched a few games.

The 25-year-old wasn't offered a contract by the New Jersey Devils after training camp, so Stralman returned to his native Sweden before the injury-riddled Rangers came calling. The offensive-minded blueliner isn't exactly the prototypical player for a Tortorella-coached team, and Stralman knew it.

"I kind of knew right away I had to change my game a little bit," Stralman told NHL.com. "I was all offense, no defense before. I know that's not going to work."

It took months or refining, educating, tearing down and building up, but Stralman has become a reliable portion of the Rangers' secondary blueliners. He usually starts a game paired with Marc Staal, but Tortorella tends to use sixth defenseman Stu Bickel so infrequently that Stralman finds himself with Michael Del Zotto at times.

Stralman's three goals lead all defensemen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I kind of kicked back on the offensive part and worked hard on the defensive part and tried to take it all in and buy into the system we play," Stralman said. "Along the way, when I felt more and more confident, I tried to get back to my old game without sacrificing anything at the other end. It's been a long road and a bit of a struggle, too, at some points. I'm happy with my game right now."

The hardest part for Stralman was developing the physical edge Tortorella holds so dear. It's taken a while, but Stralman has added a hip check to his repertoire that keeps onrushing forwards honest along the boards.

But while those booming hits brought the fans at Madison Square Garden to their feet, Stralman's offensive game began to slip. The hardest part for him was finding a balance, but he said Tortorella making him a healthy scratch later in the season helped him achieve that missing balance.

"That's been the most frustrating part," Stralman said. "I try to peel back on the offensive part and nail the defensive part. Along the way, I kind of lost the offensive part a little bit and that was really frustrating to kind of go look for it and try to find it. There was a lot of frustration going on. I got scratched there for a few games. It was kind of good to look back and try to figure out a way to go. Ever since that, I think I relaxed a little bit more to try to find my own game. It's coming along."

Stralman has two of his three goals in the postseason on the power play, but his goal during the Rangers' 3-2 overtime win Game 5 came at even-strength. Through 12 playoff games -- the first of Stralman's career -- he has three goals, two assists and is plus-2.

That's not too bad for someone who wasn't in the coach's good graces upon his arrival.

"He's been consistent defensively and offensively," Tortorella said. "That was my biggest gripe with him. If one was going well, the other part was stuck. To generalize, he needed to compete harder. That was the inconsistent part of his game. That's why he wasn't a complete player. That's something you can control as a player. I think he has answered that question. He has been a really good competitor for us."

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Posted On Tuesday, 05.08.2012 / 4:12 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Third period full of missed opportunities for Caps

ARLINGTON, Va. -- If the Washington Capitals fall to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, players and management alike will likely spend the summer wondering how things could have been different had they held on to their 2-1 lead in the final seconds of Game 5.

Beginning with a double-minor high-sticking penalty against Joel Ward with 22 seconds remaining in regulation, followed by Brad Richards' tying-goal with 6.6 seconds to play and Marc Staal's game-winning tally 95 seconds into overtime, the Caps potentially saw their season fall by the wayside in a stunning 3-2 OT loss.

While it is hard to ignore how Game 5 ended and the series of events that led to its conclusion, the Capitals acknowledged Tuesday that their margin of error in the final minute of regulation should never have been so thin.
From the time John Carlson's power-play goal gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead at 4:20 of the third period, the Caps had ample opportunity to double their lead.

Less than three minutes after Carlson's goal, Nicklas Backstrom broke free from Dan Girardi and went one-on-one against Henrik Lundqvist. Backstrom's backhand attempt grazed off of Lundqvist's shoulder and hit the crossbar.

"I should have scored," Backstrom said Tuesday. "It would have been a different game."

The same can be said if Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin had converted on a two-on-one with seven minutes to play in regulation. Instead, Girardi got a stick in the way of Semin's pass to Ovechkin, and a shot on goal was never even attempted.

Ditto for a Capitals' three-on-one with just over five minutes to play when the trio of Ovechkin, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson failed to get a shot on goal. This time it was Staal who got a piece of Laich's intended pass to Ovechkin as Washington gained the blue line.

"We should've executed better," said Johansson, who has gone seven games without a point and is last among Washington forwards with a minus-6 rating in the playoffs.

"[Backstrom's chance] is just bad luck -- it hits the crossbar. But we had a couple two-on-ones and three-on-ones where we should've scored and we didn't even get a shot on net. That's not good enough. We have enough skill and good hockey players to do something better with that. That's something we have to get better at."

The Rangers outshot the Capitals 38-18 in Game 5, and just as the Capitals are left to wonder what could have been had they converted their third period scoring chances, New York likely would have been wondering the same had Washington held on for a 2-1 win.

"They played really well early on, but as the game wore on I thought we got better," Laich said. "They had more shots, but we might have had the better scoring chances. Nicky [hitting the crossbar] and Alex, and Alex had a two-on-one, and we had a three-on-one which I made a bad play on. So we're going to commit to defense again and try and get the offense, and when we do get those chances we'll try to capitalize on it."

"We need to bear down," said Mike Green, who played a team-high 24:47 in Game 5. "When we get opportunities to score, we've got to put it in the net. I think that would have been the difference in the game… It's just [about] us making the right play. Three-on-one, you should be able to get a shot at least. Their D-men made great plays, but we've got to do better."

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Posted On Tuesday, 05.08.2012 / 3:08 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Caps used to bouncing back from tough OT defeats

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Before falling in overtime in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals had already dropped three games in OT in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Following each defeat, though, the Caps have shown the type of resiliency they admit was often missing in playoffs past.

There was a series-opening 1-0 OT loss in Round 1 against the Boston Bruins. The Caps responded with a double overtime win of their own in Game 2.

There was a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 6 against the Bruins, in which the Caps blew an opportunity to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions on home ice. The Caps responded with an overtime win in Boston in Game 7.

Then there was a 2-1 triple overtime loss against the Rangers in Game 3 of their second-round series, in which Washington came up short in the third-longest game in franchise history. The Caps responded with a home win in Game 4 three days later.

While Washington's first three OT losses this postseason were all disheartening in their own right, Monday's 3-2 loss in New York may top them all.

The Caps held a 2-1 lead in the final minute of Game 5 before a double-minor high-sticking penalty against Joel Ward sent the Rangers to the power play. New York's Brad Richards tied the game with 6.6 seconds remaining in regulation, while Marc Staal netted the game-winning-goal just 95 seconds into OT.

"We were close, but we can't think that way," said defenseman John Carlson, who was on the ice for both the game-tying and winning goals. "We're all still positive here. We know that in the last series we missed an opportunity in Game 6 to close it out at home. [Monday] we missed an opportunity to go up in the series 3-2. But all we're worried about right now is winning [Wednesday]."

The Capitals met at their Northern Virginia practice facility Tuesday to watch video, but did not skate. Of the six players made available to the media, all six echoed the sentiments of coach Dale Hunter and said of the Game 5 loss that "stuff happens," and "that’s hockey."

No matter when or how they have lost in these playoffs, the Capitals have been quick to brush off any disappointment, and dating back to the regular season they have not lost back-to-back games since March 22-23.

"I think we control our emotions a little better," said forward Brooks Laich who has played in all 49 of Washington's playoff games since 2008.

"Even when we win, we're not bouncing off the ceiling -- it's more of a business atmosphere. And when we lose, we know that we can bounce back. We have a very good hockey team, so we never get too high, we never get too low, we just stay pretty composed. A lot of that comes from Dale … he's not panicking."

Added Hunter: "We have to [respond]. It's hockey. The guys are ready to battle [in Game 6] and that's what it's all about when you play in the Stanley Cup  playoffs. ... The guys are resilient; they'll bounce back and have a great game."

Now the Capitals have no choice but to come back from their latest OT setback. The Caps must beat New York in Game 6 on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC) to extend the series. Game 7 would be Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

"We've just got to put it behind us and come out harder," said Nicklas Backstrom who added that this latest OT loss may be tougher than the triple OT loss in Game 3.

"I think so, but you've just got to forget about it. It's bad luck, I think, it's just six seconds left and the puck was bouncing all over the place. I guess that happens in hockey sometimes, and you've just got to bounce back."
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Posted On Monday, 05.07.2012 / 7:28 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Game 5 lineups for Rangers, Caps

NEW YORK -- The Rangers and Capitals are playing Game 5 Monday at Madison Square Garden for the right to win the Eastern Conference Semifinal-round series in six games. The series is deadlocked at 2-2 with the Capitals winning Game 4 at home, 3-2.

The Rangers and Caps split the first two games at Madison Square Garden and then split the next two at Verizon Center, including the triple OT thriller that the Rangers won.

The lineups for both teams are the same for Game 5 as they were for Game 4. The only changes are in the Rangers' lines as rookie Chris Kreider, who scored the winning goal in Game 1, warmed up on the fourth line with John Mitchell and Mike Rupp.

Kreider being demoted to the fourth line comes after he was benched for the third period of Game 4. He had a turnover that led to a goal in that game.
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Posted On Monday, 05.07.2012 / 1:23 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Ovechkin expecting another 'warm' welcome at MSG

NEW YORK -- Alex Ovechkin expects to again be the target of another unfriendly embrace from the Madison Square Garden fans in Game 5 Monday.

"Yeah, I can't wait," Ovechkin said while flashing is famous gap-tooth smile Monday morning.

Taking a page out of the Ottawa playbook, where the fans at Scotiabank Place count down from 11:11 every period before chanting in favor of captain Daniel Alfredsson, the folks at MSG have taken to counting down from the 8:08 every period before chanting something that isn't all that kind to Ovechkin.

It includes his nickname, Ovi, but you can pretty much guess what the following word is.

Ovechkin doesn't mind it at all.

"I want to laugh, but I can't," he said.

Ovechkin looks at it as a sign of respect.

"It's always nice to hear from the fans, if they're booing you or cheering you," he said. "You're still out there and you still get some respect."

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Posted On Monday, 05.07.2012 / 12:52 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Projected Game 5 lineup for Rangers

NEW YORK -- There was some positive news on the injury front for the New York Rangers on Monday morning at Madison Square Garden, as forward Mats Zuccarello skated for the first time since breaking his wrist March 23.

The forward took shots and participated in the team's morning skate in preparation for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Washington Capitals. The series is tied 2-2, but coach John Tortorella doesn't believe Zuccarello will be back in the lineup any time soon.

Forward Brandon Dubinsky (lower body) also didn't participate in practice and hasn't played since Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators in the first round.

Here's the expected lineup for the Rangers, who shuffled their lines a lot toward the end of Game 4, so consider this an educated guess.

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Ruslan Fedotenko
Mike Rupp - John Mitchell - Brandon Prust

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

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Posted On Monday, 05.07.2012 / 11:42 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Projected Game 5 lineup for Capitals

NEW YORK -- Judging by their morning skate at Madison Square Garden, the Washington Capitals will likely use the same line for Game 5 as they did for their 3-2 win in Game 4.

Here are their lines, D pairings and goaltending depth:

Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Nicklas Backstrom - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

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Posted On Sunday, 05.06.2012 / 3:49 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Hagelin still searching for elusive first goal

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Carl Hagelin and John Tortorella are on the same page when it comes to how the young Swedish forward has been playing.

Both say he's been good.

"Yeah, he's been on pucks," Tortorella said.

"Yeah, I feel like I'm playing good," Hagelin told NHL.com. "I've been on pucks, created chances. I'm doing a good job winning battles in the corner and trying to find guys in the slot."

All that's missing is a tangible result.

Hagelin had an assist in Game 1 against Ottawa, but he's pointless with a minus-2 rating and nine shots on goal in the seven games he's played since. Hagelin missed three games in the Ottawa series due to a suspension.

"You hope he scores a goal. You hope he makes a good pass to help score a goal," Tortorella said. "I don't think that's happened, but as far as his forechecking and creating puck possession for us, he's done a good job of that."

Hagelin, of course, would love to chip in offensively. He is, after all, a top-six forward who has played mostly on a line with Brad Richards and sometimes Marian Gaborik for a reason.

The Rangers could also use some production out of him considering they're not getting enough of it elsewhere. They have only nine goals in four games against the Capitals and of the eight teams still playing in the playoffs they're dead last with 2.09 goals per game.

"We haven't scored that many goals in general, but that's the way we play," Hagelin said. "We want to make sure we play well defensively. I feel strong and I feel I'm in condition. It's just that getting that goal would be nice.

"My mindset is to always keep working hard and good things will happen, so hopefully I get one here soon. If not, the most important thing is that we win games."

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Posted On Sunday, 05.06.2012 / 3:10 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Caps doing their best to block shots

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals beat the New York Rangers at their own game Saturday, blocking 26 New York shots, while having just seven of their own blocked by the Rangers.

The Caps beat the Rangers 3-2 to even their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at two games apiece. Game 5 is Monday at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC).

"We know that they can block shots very well and they create offense from blocking it too," Caps coach Dale Hunter said Sunday. "When we get it blocked, they go down the other way on an odd-man rush. So we say that you just have to miss the first guy and get it by them, and if you miss the net so be it as long as it doesn't get blocked."

In Game 4 the Caps kept the Rangers from getting in the shooting lanes by creating space in the offensive zone with plenty of puck movement. Specifically, the Capitals looked to their blue liners.

"They like to play tight in their D-zone," Troy Brouwer said, "their forwards collapse a little bit and so our D-men have a little bit more time at the points. So if we can get pucks back to the point and go D-to-D and stretch them out a little bit, it gives our D-men a better lane to the net. If we have nothing, we can just throw it down behind the net and try to get a little more room on the cycle."

The Capitals acknowledge that they have relied on their cycle game and their play below the goal line more against the Rangers than they did in the first round against the Boston Bruins.

Washington's first two goals in Saturday's Game 4 win -- tallies from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom -- both came from sustained offensive zone pressure that resulted in the Rangers collapsing down low.

Ovechkin opened the scoring seconds after Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson battled for possession in the corner with Ryan Callahan and Chris Kreider. Kreider eventually turned the puck over to Ovechkin who made it 1-0 Washington. 

"Callahan was in the corner, Kreider was right down in the pile, both D-men were in the pile, and I think that [Brian] Boyle was the lone guy in the slot," Brouwer said. "That leaves a lot of room in the slot. So it was a timely turnover that the guys caused and Ovi just happened to be in a good spot."

While the Caps' combination of puck movement from their defensemen and the play of their forwards below the faceoff circles kept the Rangers from blocking more than seven shots, the Capitals themselves also got in the way of 26 shots from New York.

Jeff Schultz led the Caps with nine blocked shots, as Washington passed New York for the overall team lead in blocked shots this post-season (244-232).
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Posted On Sunday, 05.06.2012 / 3:05 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Hunter sticking with same lineup for Game 5

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Not looking to change a winning formula, Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter is expected to go with the same lineup in Game 5 against the New York Rangers that produced Saturday's 3-2 win.

The Eastern Conference Semifinal series is even at two games apiece with Game 5 Monday at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC).

When the series returned to Washington for Game 3 last Wednesday, Hunter had Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom skate on the same line for the first time this postseason. While Hunter was satisfied with their production, the experiment was short-lived.

In Game 4, Brooks Laich returned to Hunter's No.1 line alongside Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson, while Backstrom was back on the second line with Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin. The trios are expected to stay the same for Game 5.

"Brooksie and Ovi have been working pretty well together," Hunter explained. "I put Nicky there and they had some good scoring chances, but I thought that Nicky, [Chimera] and Semin, three games ago had a good game so I thought I'd go back to them."

Both lines came through offensively in Game 4 as sustained pressure from Laich and Johansson led to Ovechkin's fourth goal of the playoffs, while Chimera found Backstrom open in the slot in the second period for his second goal of the postseason. Backstrom's tally snapped a personal seven-game goalless drought.

"Playing with [Backstrom], it felt like he was back to his old self, cycling the puck down low and getting some chances," Chimera said. "With any luck, he could have had three or four goals [Saturday]. I think that was his best game since returning [from a 40-game absence March 31]. He needs that. He needs some confidence. That's a game that could spur us on and ultimately help us out, too."

While Backstrom continues to find his game, his countryman Marcus Johansson remains on the Capitals' No.1 line despite a six-game pointless streak. Johansson is also last among Washington forwards with a minus-five rating in 11 playoff games.
Below are the Capitals lines from Sunday's practice prior to the team's flight to New York.

CAPITALS

Alex OvechkinBrooks LaichMarcus Johansson
Jason ChimeraNicklas BackstromAlexander Semin
Matt HendricksJay BeagleTroy Brouwer
Mike Knuble- Keith AucoinJoel Ward
Mathieu PerreaultJeff HalpernMattias Sjogren

Karl AlznerJohn Carlson
Roman HamrlikMike Green
Jeff SchultzDennis Wideman
John ErskineDmitry Orlov

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers lines at Friday's practice

WASHINGTON -- The Rangers had a different look to their lines in their first practice Friday since winning in triple overtime in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Capitals.

The Rangers hold a 2-1 best-of-seven series which will continue Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center in preparation for Game 4 (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC). This is what coach John Tortorella showed at their final practice before Game 4:

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Chris Kreider
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Ryan Callahan
Mike Rupp - John Mitchell - Brandon Prust

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrk Lundqvist
Martin Biron

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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 1:16 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Caps back at practice knowing season not over yet

Despite what Brooks Laich thought when he woke up Thursday morning, the Capitals are still alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I woke up and for some reason I thought the season was over. I had a deep sleep, a long, deep sleep," Laich told reporters after practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. "I woke up and thought the season was over. And it refreshed in my mind: we only lost one hockey game and it's two to one [in the series]. We're still in a good position."

The Capitals returned for a full practice Friday, two days after losing 2-1 in triple overtime to the Rangers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Despite losing a marathon game on home ice, the wind isn't out of the players' sails. They know they were in this position in the first round against the Boston Bruins and rallied to win the series in seven games.

"We're in the same position we were in, in round one," Laich told reporters. "Somebody's going to win that hockey game and somebody's going to lose. Unfortunately we didn't win it; all it's going to do is motivate us more to win Game 4."

Coach Dale Hunter didn't have any changes in his lineup at practice from what he used in Game 3. Here's what the lines looked like Friday:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 1:02 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Mitchell relieved to finally get some pucks on net

WASHINGTON -- While most people were focused on the eight-game goal drought of Marian Gaborik heading into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Rangers and Capitals, there was another flying under the radar.

In eight games, Rangers fourth-line forward John Mitchell not only had zero goals, but he had zero shots on goal.

Gaborik ended his slump by scoring in the third overtime, and Mitchell snapped out of his funk with five shots on goal. Based on their reactions, it's almost as if Mitchell felt the biggest relief from getting off the schneid.

"After probably Game 4 in Ottawa, I was like, 'Hey, I've got no shots,'" Mitchell said. "Then before you know it, another four games go by and I can't get a shot on net. It was nice. It was almost like a weight came off my shoulders when I got I shot on net. I was like, 'Oh, finally.' I was even thinking to myself, 'Maybe my first shot will go in.' It was kind of wearing on my mind."

Mitchell went into the overtime with the belief there are no bad shots at that stage of the game. He put one on net from long range during the second overtime, but it was a difficult save for Caps goaltender Braden Holtby.

"Yeah, you never know," Mitchell said. "I had a really good opportunity to put the puck on net and it hit his shoulder. I'm just going to try to keep firing. That seems to be the theme in overtime or just in playoffs in general. Throwing the puck at the net, it seems like shots could be going right along the ice and it finds its way in. Throwing the puck at the net is never a bad idea in any period."

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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 12:50 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers pay visit to Arlington National Cemetery

WASHINGTON -- After a triple-overtime marathon Wednesday night, no one would be upset if members of the New York Rangers simply drew the shades in their hotel rooms, put a do not disturb sign on the door and slept into the early afternoon Thursday.

It was certainly a day of rest for most of the team, but forward Brian Boyle and about a dozen players and staff members spent part of their day at Arlington National Cemetery, a 624-acre military cemetery in the nation's capital. About 14,000 servicemen and women have been laid to rest there, and the cemetery conducts about 30 funeral services per day.

Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh were also part of the group.

"We're worried about winning and losing," Boyle said. "We put our heart and soul into it with everything we have. It means a lot to us, but it puts things in perspective when you see all those gravestones as far as you can see, all the lives that have been laid down for us to be doing what we're doing right now.

"We're pretty fortunate to get that opportunity. It's tough to describe. There's not a lot of words said while we're at the cemetery. Just taking it all in, and we really didn't know what to say to each other. It was impressive, for sure."

Coach John Tortorella said he has changed the way he uses his words in the locker room out of respect for members of the armed forces.

"I don't even like comparing what we do, and we shouldn't compare what we do," Tortorella said. "I've even tried to change my language in the locker room because I think it's wrong. I don't like talking much about anything outside the game, but that's a whole different realm. They cast a shadow over us. We're playing a sport because they allow us to. I don't even like comparing to what we do on the ice what some of those men and women have gone through."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 3:12 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Torts on fatigue, Lundqvist, Callahan and more

WASHINGTON -- The Rangers were granted a day off Thursday after their four-hour, triple-overtime 2-1 win against the Capitals that actually ended early Thursday morning. They hold a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series, with Game 4 set for Saturday at Verizon Center (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC).

Coach John Tortorella spoke on a conference call about a wide-ranging assortment of topics, including the fatigue factor that comes with playing such a long game, the well-rested Henrik Lundqvist and how that's translating in his postseason play and Ryan McDonagh's mental toughness.

Here's everything Tortorella had to say:

Q: Is it possible for a team to have a cumulative fatigue in the playoffs or can you recover from game to game?

TORTORELLA: This is playoff hockey. To me, it's no big deal. There will be no problems with our club.

Q: You've talked about Marian Gaborik gets it -- he's a star player, but he understands the way he needs to play. Have you had to have any conversations with him during this playoff run or do you have faith he's going to turn it around like he did at the end last night?

TORTORELLA: I have conversations with a lot of players throughout the playoffs. That's part of my job and Gabby [Gaborik] is one of them. I've had conversations not just about scoring goals, but a lot of different things, like I do with all the players.

Q: You said after the game last night that all this win means is the Rangers have a 2-1 series lead. But can a game like that galvanize the club moving forward?

TORTORELLA: I think any time you win a game in the playoffs you swing momentum your way. Is it galvanizing? I don't think our team needs to be galvanized. I think it is. I don't think teams that are playing at this time of year don't have that. We found a way to win a game last night and we have a little momentum on our side because we won a game. Now we're just going to go about our business tomorrow and try to keep it on our side as long as we can.

Q: Besides giving the team a day off today, is there anything you can do as a coach to make sure there's no emotional hangover from a draining game like that.

TORTORELLA: No. I trust the team. I think our team has handled the ups and downs all year long and throughout the regular season with some of the things we've gone through as team, so there's not going to be any conversation on that at all. We'll report tomorrow for practice and just get ready for our next game.

Q: Can a win last night be something you can draw on in terms of overcoming adversity in the playoffs?

TORTORELLA: I think it helps for some of the younger guys who had never been in the situation and haven't played in much playoff hockey and going through a game of attrition like last night. I think that's a small scope of what needs to be done in the playoffs because playoffs is about trying to outlast your opponents and keeping momentum on your side. I think we found a way and did something really good things and had some struggles in some other areas. It's a good, positive note to get on the right side of it, so maybe down the road you lean on that. Again, it's one game. We did some good things.

Q: Have you ever been involved in a game like the one last night that involved stamina and the will to win?

TORTORELLA: I can't off the top of my head date it and put the games on, but I think all of us have been involved in those situations. Again, I'm happy the team found a way. I'm happy the way they handled themselves. I'm not surprised the way they handled themselves. They'll probably have to do it again, and they'll probably have to do it again in this series. It's a win for us. I just don't want us to get too carried away because this is part of it. This is what you have to do. I don't think it's anything special. It's a good lesson for us early.

Q: Do you think the extra rest that Henrik Lundqvist was afforded in the regular season can manifest itself in a game that lasts as long as that one did?

TORTORELLA: Sure. I think that Henrik's in a good spot. I think our team's in shape. I think we're mentally rested. I think what we did with Henrik during the year in those situations is why. I'm sure it helped him last night and he'll recover today just like everybody else on the team. This will not affect us. Can he get through it? You have to. This is just a little blip as far as what we had to go through last night. Most of that is a mental strain, not a physical strain.

Q: Would you have been as confident in balancing the two-goalie system without someone like Martin Biron as the other goalie?

TORTORELLA: That's why we signed Marty. The reason why we get to a situation where we're able to play a Game 7 in our building [against Ottawa in the first round] is really because of Marty Biron. He found a way to not only understand his role on the team and play the amount of games he played to give our number-one guy rest, but to also win. That's the important thing. We're not looking for a guy just to spell Hank. We need the goalie to win and that was huge for us this year.

Q: There were a lot of incredible performances from your team last night, but was Ryan Callahan leading by example?

TORTORELLA: That's what he does. I'm not sure if Ryan Callahan said two words on the bench last night during the game. It's what he does on the ice. He had a couple of huge blocks, he scores a power-play goal by being around the blue. He's finishing his checks. I say it over and over again -- that's who he is. One thing I did notice was in between periods it's one voice I could hear when we were going to those overtimes -- his. I think that's part of the maturity of him being a captain. I don't know if two years ago he would've felt comfortable in that situation, but he knows he has a responsibility. In between periods in that locker room, his voice was heard.

Q: John Mitchell had five shots last night after having none in the postseason. Was he noticeably better?

TORTORELLA: I know he concentrated on shooting the puck more. A couple of them were off-angle and not really good scoring chances, but especially in overtime, you're trying to put the puck to the net. I thought the biggest contribution he made was when there was on odd-man rush coming back in our end zone and somehow he had a major block. This was before we scored the winner. Forget about what you saw with shots on goal and faceoffs. He had a huge block. That line gave us some good minutes in the first 60 and through the overtimes. Mike Rupp had the best chance and he hits Brian Boyle right in the [rear end]. I mean, he settles the puck down and it's in the net, but he hits Brian Boyle in the [rear end]. They gave us some good minutes.

Q: Ryan McDonagh played 53 minutes last night and he's just a second-year player, but when did you start having that kind of trust in him?

TORTORELLA: He's probably our best-conditioned athlete. He played a lot of minutes, but he could've gone on for more. The most impressive part of him that made me put trust in him right away as a coaching staff was his mental approach. He makes a mistake or something doesn't go right, for a young player, it usually takes some time to get it out of his head, but he comes right back out there and makes that play at the same time. He's not afraid to make mistakes and recovers so very well if there is a problem. The next shift he's right back at it. He's turning into a top-notch defenseman for us and it will continue.

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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 3:05 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

'Olie the goalie' understands pain of marathon OT loss

ARLINGTON, Va. -- If anybody can relate to how Braden Holtby felt after allowing the game-winning goal in triple overtime of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, it may be Olaf Kolzig.

The Washington Capitals associate goaltending coach was watching from the press box when New York Rangers forward Marian Gaborik beat Holtby at 14:41 of the sixth period to give the Rangers a 2-1 Game 3 win, and a 2-1 series lead.

It was the longest game ever played at Verizon Center, passing Game 6 of the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, when Martin St. Louis beat Kolzig at 4:03 of the third OT to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 2-1 win and eliminate the Caps from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I haven't been on the winning end of one of those," Kolzig said, "so I don't know how it feels after you win one, but I know it's pretty deflating after you lose."

The 22-year-old Holtby made a career-high 47 saves in his first ever triple-overtime game at any level and Kolzig's message is simple as the rookies looks to rebound in Game 4 Saturday.

"Just continue to play the same way," the Caps' all-time wins leader said. "That's all you can say. You're going to have games like that. You're going to have games where your team bails you out. It's just keeping your emotions in check and playing with a steady level."

Kolzig was also on the losing end of the longest game in team history, when the Caps fell 3-2 in quadruple overtime in Game 4 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We lost to Pittsburgh in four overtimes, and I think it was like 50 seconds from going to a fifth overtime," Kolzig recalled. "Petr Nedved [scored]. I still have no idea how the puck found its way in the net. You watch the replay and there's people crossing in front of each other and it found its way in the net."

The 1996 Capitals went on to lose their next two games after the quadruple-OT loss and were eliminated from the playoffs four days later.

The 2012 Caps will look to write a different script and may benefit from having two days off between Games 3 and 4 as opposed to the customary one day between games.

"The emotions you get out of [Game 3], both ways, won't be as significant as if we were playing [Friday]," Kolzig said. "Their high will come down a little bit, our low will come up a little bit, and both teams will be re-energized and rested. It's fortunate that we've got the two days in between."

With the extra day at his disposal, Hunter encouraged his team to stay away from the team's practice facility Thursday -- "no video, no nothing," he said -- with the exception of players in need of physical treatment.

"You're pretty drained after," Hunter said of the physical and mental toll a long game can take.

Like Kolzig, Hunter also played in the longest game in franchise history, collecting an assist, five shots and two penalty minutes in the four-OT loss to Pittsburgh in 1996.

"A long game like this is [tiring]," Hunter said, "but you remember [those] games when you get my age, how much fun it was playing triple overtime, what a battle it was and the sacrifices you made. You always have good memories, win or lose. It's always the battle. And the guys battled [in Game 3 Wednesday]."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 1:44 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Capitals face another test of their mental toughness

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Since he was hired to coach the Washington Capitals in late November, former captain Dale Hunter has worked on improving his team's mental toughness.

The fruits of his labor were on display during a late-season playoff push which saw the Capitals win four of their last five games, and again during a seven-game first-round series win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

The next test comes Saturday in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals when the Caps will look to rebound from Wednesday's triple overtime loss in Game 3 against the New York Rangers

"We had to play some tough hockey to get into the playoffs," Hunter said. "Playing playoff hockey you have to [be able to] bounce back and be tough during the game if something happens on the ice. You go down a goal, you just keep battling and good things will happen."

In Washington's case, the Caps have now gone down a game, as the third-longest game in franchise history leaves them in a 2-1 hole in the best-of-seven series.

But for those that have been around the organization since its streak of five-straight playoff appearances began in 2008, the sense is that this year's club is better equipped to overcome a potentially deflating loss than the teams of years past.

"There's no question," said associate goaltending coach Olaf Kolzig, who acknowledged that this year's team had no choice but to become stronger mentally down the stretch.

"The adversity that we faced this year as opposed to the last two years where we basically solidified a playoff spot in January and kind of cruised into the playoffs, this year we had to scratch and claw …

"Teams that battle right to the end, if you can stay healthy and physically you're there, then you're going to have the edge over teams that solidified a spot two months in advance, and I think that's what we're experiencing, so I don’t think that we're going to be as down as maybe some other teams would be after a game like [Wednesday]."

The Presidents' Trophy winning Capitals in 2010 proved fragile in the postseason when they became the first No. 1 seed to blow a 3-1 first-round series lead.

The highest scoring team during the regular-season managed just one goal in Games 5, 6 and 7 against Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens, and grew increasingly frustrated as the series went on.

Kolzig says that the blue-collar style that Hunter has instilled in this year's Capitals allows the team to stay more even-keeled. The Caps have proven to be a resilient bunch under Hunter and have gone 17 straight games without losing two straight, dating to March 23.

"I think the guys have finally bought into Dale's type of hockey and they're realizing what he's been trying to emphasize throughout the year is finally paying off now in the playoffs," Kolzig said. "This is why we've played the way did. The guys are rising to the occasion, the way they battled against Boston and to go into Boston and win three games out of four in that building including Game 7 -- that says a lot."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 1:18 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Capitals dealing with relentless Rangers forecheck

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In the first two games of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, the Washington Capitals were quickly introduced to the New York Rangers' relentless forecheck.

"They buzzed us real good at the beginning of [Game 2]," Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said.

The consensus among Washington defensemen is that the Rangers are providing them with far less time and space than the Boston Bruins did in Round 1.

The Rangers are sending pucks deep, gaining the Washington blue line, and finishing their checks on whichever Capitals defenseman is first to retrieve the disc.

"I think that if we can get them slowed up through the neutral zone a little bit, and not let them come through with so much speed, that will give us a little bit more time," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "Then we've just got to go back a little bit harder. When they're coming hard on you like that, you've got to move the puck quick. They're coming. That's the way it is in the playoffs."

The Rangers had 45 hits in Game 2, with 37 of them coming from forwards. Ryan Callahan (eight), Chris Kreider (seven) and Brian Boyle (six) led New York in hits, marking a significant change for the Capitals, who dealt with defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg as the heavy hitters in their first-round series against the Boston Bruins.

"Sometimes you have to maybe cheat a little bit to get back or find a different way to get to that puck first because they come with so much speed and they always finish that first check that you're going to get hit no matter what," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "I think you've got to make sure that you're not getting thrown off by those hits and you just absorb it and get back into the play. It's a good forechecking team. There's not a whole lot you can do."

Far too often in Games 1 and 2, the Capitals were pinned in their own zone for long stretches, unable to overcome New York's forecheck and their pinching defensemen. Caps coach Dale Hunter says that more is needed from his backchecking forwards.

"They're a forechecking team and their D pinch," Hunter said, "so we just have to move the puck quickly. The key to everything is their wingers being good on the boards and chipping pucks out."

Added Wideman: "You can move the puck real quick, or get it off the glass, you might be able to catch them in the middle sometimes. But they come back extremely hard as well. … As hard as they come, we know we can't really make that pass to the winger because their Ds are pinching a lot, so we've got to just get it out, get it on the neutral zone and just try to get it on the forecheck."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 12:46 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Projected Game 3 lineup for Rangers

WASHINGTON -- The Rangers will likely roll out the same lineup they used against the Capitals in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Monday night when they take the ice for Game 3 on Wednesday.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist also made it known he has zero interest in discussing the ice time of Caps star Alex Ovechkin.

"No, I don't really care either, honestly," Lundqvist said when asked if he noticed Ovechkin's 13:36 of ice time in Game 2. "I focus on my game and what we have to do and if he plays 20 or 10 or 5 or 30, I don't really care."

Rangers coach John Tortorella said forward Brandon Dubinsky, out with a lower-body injury, made the trip to Washington. He also said defenseman Stu Bickel, who hasn't played more than five minutes in the past six games and committed a turnover that led to a goal in Game 2, needs to be sharper or he'll find himself playing even fewer minutes.

"He'll be fine. He has to be," Tortorella said. "If he isn't, he'll play less."

With no changes expected, here's what the Rangers' lines and d-pairs will likely be at Verizon Center for Game 3 with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1.

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Artem Anisimov - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 12:32 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers bring road show to Washington

WASHINGTON -- The New York Rangers were one of the NHL's best road teams during the regular season, going 24-12-5 away from Madison Square Garden for a League-best 53 points.

That success has spilled into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers went 2-1 at Scotiabank Place during the first round against Ottawa Senators and will look to keep it rolling at Verizon Center for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals.

"I think our game is not a game that's relying on a lot of pretty, wide-open plays," Rangers forward Mike Rupp said. "When you play a certain style like that, there's a lot of things that can go wrong."

The Rangers can be described in a lot of ways, but pretty and wide-open will rarely be among them. They allowed 96 goals in 41 road games in the regular season, third-fewest in the League, and held the Senators to five goals in three road games during the first round.

"We have a foundation that is about the will and paying the price and playing a sound game we want to play," Rupp said. "I don't want to say that's easy, it's a mindset you have to have every night. It's much easier to resort to that than it is to making pretty plays all night."

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 10:17 AM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Ovechkin, Backstrom reunited on Caps' top line

ARLINGTON, Va. -- For the better part of the Bruce Boudreau era, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin were fixtures on the Washington Capitals' No. 1 line during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Through nine playoff games under coach Dale Hunter, Ovechkin and Backstrom have yet to start a game on the same unit, and their shifts together have been limited primarily to the power play.

But based on line rushes at the Caps’ morning skate Wednesday, it appears a reunion could be in store on Washington's No. 1 trio.

In preparation for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC), Backstrom skated with the No. 1 line Wednesday morning, flanked by Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson.

"We haven't [played together] much at all," Backstrom said of skating alongside Ovechkin since returning from a concussion March 31. "But we should know each other because we've played with each other for a long time [in previous seasons]. We've got to go out and do our job out there and make sure we get some chances and stuff, work hard and do all those little things right, too."

Ovechkin has two goals in his last five games, with Backstrom assisting on both -- the result of Backstrom winning a faceoff directly back to Ovechkin, who was able to beat Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist with shots from just inside the blue line.

Hunter said before Washington's first-round series against the Boston Bruins that he wanted more size alongside Ovechkin to help create space against Boston defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.

Brooks Laich fit the bill in Round 1, but against the smaller and more mobile Rangers defense, Backstrom provides Hunter with a different look. Backstrom will be counted on to generate speed with the puck through the neutral zone and find Ovechkin for open looks.

"I think we have good chemistry," Ovechkin said, "but when I played with [Brooks Laich] it was a good time for me and for him, too, I think. But right now I'll start playing with [Backstrom] -- I don't know how it will go, if we're going to play a whole game or maybe just one period or maybe one shift, we'll see."

Backstrom (16:18) and Ovechkin (13:36) saw career-lows in playoff ice-time in Monday's 3-2 Game 2 win in New York, but both are likely to play more in Game 3. Hunter has made it a point to match lines, and will have the home-ice advantage of the last change in Games 3 and 4.

"I'm just going to try to get the puck to [Ovechkin]," Backstrom said. "Me and Marcus are passers on that line, we know he has a good shot and we've just got to make sure he's open and then we'll try to find him. We'll all three go hard to the net and try to get goals."

Added Ovechkin: "I think we have chemistry, it's not a secret. He can control the puck in the neutral zone and skate and find me in open spots. He's a top center in the League, I've played with him and it's nice."

Regardless of history, ice time or matchups, the Capitals need more from their skilled forwards. Four of Washington's last five even-strength goals have come from their third and fourth lines, while top-six forwards Laich, Backstrom, Johansson and Alexander Semin have all gone at least five games without a goal.

Still, Hunter downplayed the significance of the line changes during practice.

"I don't know if they're playing together," Hunter said. "It's one of those things where they do know each other, but [Laich] has been here a long time, too, so it's just one of those things -- I thought I'd try it in practice."

The Caps' third and fourth lines remain unchanged, as do all three defensive pairings.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 4:12 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Del Zotto becoming bigger factor from blue line

NEW YORK -- Before the Rangers fell to the Capitals 3-2 on Monday night in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series that is tied at 1-1, they erased a 2-0 deficit and were a bounce away from forcing overtime.

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto was a factor in all of it, picking up a secondary assist on Brad Richards' goal late in the first period and firing a shot in the third period that deflected off the leg of Ryan Callahan and became a game-tying power-play goal.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin put his team in front with 7:27 left in the third period, but Del Zotto nearly tied the score in the final minute when his long blast rang off the post and deflected away from the net.

It was Del Zotto's second shot of the period that hit the post.

"He played very well," Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday.

Del Zotto, 21, played 25:08 in Game 2, by far his biggest workload of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a sign he's earning more trust from Tortorella.

"Whatever minutes I get out there, I'm going to play my best," Del Zotto said. "I had some good chances and unfortunately I hit two posts there."

Del Zotto said he's grown more comfortable in his first postseason experience. In his first five games, he had just one assist but has three assists in his last four games.

"It's been fun. I've enjoyed every game," Del Zotto said. "I was happy with my game yesterday. It was a good confidence boost. But getting one late would've nice. But as it goes on, you get more and more comfortable and having more games under your belt definitely helps too. I'm just trying to be better every single day."

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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 3:58 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Boyle feels fine, wants to improve upon return effort

NEW YORK -- The good news for Brian Boyle after Game 2 against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals is that he felt no ill effects from a concussion that cost him the previous three games.

The bad news for Boyle was that he didn't exactly play his best game in the Rangers' 3-2 loss Monday. Boyle had one shot in 15:20 of ice time in his usual spot centering the Rangers' third line with Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust, but he was beaten cleanly on a faceoff by Nicklas Backstrom and didn't get to the point in time to block Alex Ovechkin's shot that became the game-winning power-play goal late in the third period.

"I stunk. I have to be better," Boyle said. "I'm not going to accept that, and coaches won't either."

Boyle had three goals in five games during the Rangers' first-round series with the Ottawa Senators, but none of that matters in the second round with the Rangers and Capitals tied 1-1 in their best-of-seven series.

"That's a long time ago," Boyle said. "That's a different series against a different team. If I want to be a big part of it, like I want to be, I have to play better."

The positive for Boyle was he felt fine physically and the concussion was in the rear-view mirror. He tested himself right away during Game 2 and finished the game with six hits.

"Physically, I'm good," Boyle said. "After I got banged around, we had some physical battles, I wasn't thinking about it too much. It was good. No ill effects."

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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 3:50 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Capitals say winning, not ice time, the main concern

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Karl Alzner and his teammates were sitting in the players' lounge at the Washington Capitals' practice facility Tuesday morning watching the highlights and analysis on NHL Network.

When the subject turned to Alex Ovechkin's ice time during Washington's 3-2 Game 2 win Monday against the New York Rangers, Alzner and his teammates shook their heads.

"To be honest, it's not even something that we notice," Alzner said of individual playing times. "We don't go down the sheet at the end of the game and say, 'How much did Ovi play?' That's just not something that we do. Talking to some of the guys, we all keep saying the same thing: 'It's too bad that that's the topic of conversation after we just won a big game.'"

Ovechkin skated a career-playoff-low 13:36 as the Caps evened their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at a game apiece thanks in part to Ovechkin's third-period game-winning-goal. Nicklas Backstrom (16:18) and Alexander Semin (12:27) also saw career-lows in playoff ice-time.

"The reason why their ice time is down is because we were up," Troy Brouwer said of the Caps playing much of Game 2 with the lead. "If we were down a goal, their ice time would be way up. … We've got guys like [Jay] Beagle, [Jason] Chimera and [Matt Hendricks] that are looked at when we're leading in a game to maintain that lead, and Alex knows that and he has to accept that."

In 37 career playoff games under Bruce Boudreau, Ovechkin never played less than 19:42, but in nine playoff games under Dale Hunter, Ovechkin has skated 17:34 or less five times.

"If guys are getting upset about ice time and that's all you're worrying about, then you're off," Alzner said. "I've seen that happen to a lot of guys in the last seven years that I've been playing. It's pretty obvious. Everybody right now just doesn't care. Just go out there and play, work hard. Dale's going to reward you."

Hunter has made it a point to reward players regardless of name, salary or experience. Beagle has become the poster boy for Hunter's reward system and has emerged as Washington's shutdown third-line center.

The 26-year-old Beagle had never made an NHL roster out of training camp until this season, but in Game 2 Monday, he led all Washington forwards with 19:58 of ice-time.

"I think you, as a coach, you get more respect that way," Alzner said of Hunter's rewarding players. "You get people, overall, having a better attitude towards it all. … Sometimes the guys that are working extremely hard and aren't getting the minutes that they hope they're getting, they would get frustrated. I think when you reward whoever's going at that time or keeping it more even, collectively everybody's a little bit more happy."
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 3:42 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Girardi sees own minutes drop with Ovi's reduced role

NEW YORK -- Ask a member of the New York Rangers about the opposition, and the answer is always the same: "We're focused on what we can do, not on the other team."

But when defenseman Dan Girardi was asked if his 20:35 of ice time -- about six minutes fewer than his regular season average and fewest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- in Game 1 against the Washington Capitals had to do with Alex Ovechkin playing a postseason career-low 13:36, the answer was a resounding yes.

"I think that's a good explanation," Girardi said Tuesday after an optional practice at Madison Square Garden. "He didn't play a lot. I think that's the matchup we're trying to get. It's just how it worked out. That's how their coach wants him to play. You have to ask (Capitals coach) Dale Hunter."

Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have been the Rangers' shut-down defense pair all season, but with Ovechkin not on the ice to be shut down, it resulted in Girardi watching more than playing. The only other game this season in which Girardi played fewer minutes was in Chicago on Feb. 16. Girardi played just 18:55 as a tired Rangers team let a third-period lead slip away in a 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks.

Against the Capitals, Girardi played well and finished plus-1. Ovechkin's game-winning goal came on the power play after center Brad Richards took a penalty.

Despite Hunter's plan of attack, Girardi said he has to continue to play his game.

"I think I just got to not change anything, no matter how much he plays," Girardi said. "I think I just have to be ready on the ice no matter who's out there. When he's out there, I'll try to do a good job on him. Whoever's out there, I'll try to do a good job on him."

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal held Girardi's role in the previous two seasons as the team's No. 1 defenseman, but that changed when Staal missed the half of this season due to a concussion. During his comeback, Staal said the biggest adjustment was playing fewer minutes and having more time to think about his next shift, whenever it may be.

For Girardi, playing one game in that situation didn't change his approach.

"I just play my shift, go to the bench, and watch how the game's going and when I'm told to go again, I play," Girardi said. "It's nothing special for me."

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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 3:00 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Capitals want to match strong road play at Verizon

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Of the 16 teams that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, none had fewer regular-season road wins than the Washington Capitals (16-21-4).

But in winning Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday night against the New York Rangers and evening the best-of-seven series at a game apiece, the Caps improved to 4-2 on the road this postseason.

As the series now shifts to Verizon Center for Games 3 and 4, the Caps will look to match that road success on their own sheet of ice, where they went 1-2 in Round 1.

"If you look at a lot of series, the road teams are winning a lot of games," Jason Chimera said. "You've got to take that road mentality and play simple. You can't be out there to impress fans. This is not the time of year to impress fans. It's the time of year to win games."

Road teams went 31-17 in Round 1 and are 3-4 so far in Round 2. The common theme when it comes to road succees, according to the Capitals, is sticking with a simple game plan. The challenge now is to bring that same mentality to Verizon Center.

"I know we're in front of the home crowd and they may want to see some flash and some dazzle," Troy Brouwer said, "but we have to keep our game the same as we were playing on the road because that’s what’s been successful for us -- be patient, defense first, capitalize on our opportunities and just play a solid game.”

Added Chimera: "For whatever reason, at home, you maybe over-extend yourself a little bit, try to do a little too much, and it leads to their chances. So we've got to take that road mentality at home and I think that'll help us."

Playoff success at Verizon Center has been hard to come by for the Capitals who have gone 11-13 since 2008 despite owning one of the best regular-season home records over that same stretch (133-48-24).

"It's really hard to put a finger on it," Mike Knuble said. "I don't know if home teams feel more pressure like we've got to perform -- I don't think we feel that, and I don't think our fans are expecting that from us."

Knuble also noted that with Capitals coach Dale Hunter constantly monitoring the on-ice matchups, and trying to keep Alex Ovechkin away from New York's defensive tandem of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, the home-ice advantage of having the last change could also be a boost.

"It should be even more beneficial because Dale can get the exact matchup that he wants when he feels necessary," Knuble said. "It's early enough in the whole playoff thing we can right the ship here at home and be a strong home team and match the strong play we've had on the road."

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Posted On Monday, 04.30.2012 / 7:20 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Boyle returns to Rangers' lineup for Game 2

NEW YORK -- After a three-game absence, Brian Boyle is back in the Rangers' lineup for Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the Washington Capitals on Monday night.

Brian Boyle
Center - NYR
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 3
SOG: 18 | +/-: 0
Boyle was knocked out of the lineup with a concussion suffered during Game 5 of the conference quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators. He took part in the game-day skate Monday and reported feeling better, but was unsure of his status.

The Rangers have won three straight in his absence and will look to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with the Capitals.

In five games against the Senators, Boyle scored three goals. He will likely find himself centering the third line with wingers Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust.
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Posted On Monday, 04.30.2012 / 3:40 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Capitals see need to add more speed to attack

NEW YORK -- One of the battle cries from some members of the Washington Capitals after the two practices since a 3-1 loss in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal series has been the need for more speed through the neutral zone.

The Capitals, particularly the team's top line with Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera, were stifled for much of the game and unable to create much offensive pressure on New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Washington's ability to create said speed does not start in the neutral zone, but in the Capitals' own end. Ovechkin's line was pinned back by a consistent wave of offensive pressure by the Rangers, and they often spent most of a given shift stuck more than 150 feet away from Lundqvist.

"When you're wheeling around in your own zone and trying to fight battles, it is a lot more tiresome than if you're having fun in the offensive zone creating chances," Washington forward Troy Brouwer said. "Anyone will tell you that. If you're spending most of your shifts in the d-zone, you're getting worn down and you won't have that ability to jump up in the play and create some speed. Guys got to make sure when there's loose pucks, we've got to be the first ones on them, recovering those pucks and getting them out and being good along the walls. That will help us create more offense in that way."

For Ovechkin's line to play less defense, they need to play better defense. A big issue for the Capitals when Ovechkin's unit was on the ice was an inability to get the puck out of danger and away from New York's aggressive forecheckers.

There was an instance where Ovechkin's group was able to break out of its own end crisply -- and the result was a perfectly executed counterattack goal for Chimera. When something like that didn't happen, the line often spent so long playing defense that there was no energy left to play offense.

If Ovechkin did carry the puck into the offensive zone, he went at it alone while Laich and Chimera headed for a change or were left far behind him.

"Actually in the first series … ideally, you want to get flying through the neutral zone, but it doesn’t always happen like that," Laich said. "Especially now when it's pretty tight -- sometimes you have to stay patient and go up the wall with the puck and chip it in and forecheck and create your opportunities. It's not going to be all night where we're flying through the neutral zone."

Brouwer is expected to replace Chimera on the top line. Ovechkin, normally a left wing, skated on the right side for a drill Monday morning. Moving him to the opposite side could mean less one-on-one battles with New York's top shutdown defenseman, Dan Girardi, but his partner Ryan McDonagh is no slouch and it would also mean Brouwer, a natural right wing, would also have to play out of position.

"I don't think there is anything in that," Brouwer said when asked if he might be on the left side for Game 2. "I know he likes to come down that left side so he has the shot available right from the beginning. Guys are reading that and they know he likes to open up and take that shot from the half wall. Maybe if we were on the other sides, and I know that we're not so it is not an issue, but maybe it would throw guys off a little bit."

Laich has been a versatile forward in Washington for the past few seasons, and Brouwer has proven to be similarly adept at playing on different lines in different situations since joining the team from Chicago. He has been deployed at times during the latter part of the regular season and this postseason on the team's checking line with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks, but he has also moved up to the top unit on occasion.

"It shouldn't [change], but sometimes it does," Brouwer said. "When you're with skilled players like Brooks and [Ovechkin], you can be more creative as far as offense goes. If you're with [Hendricks] and [Beagle], it is more of a grind-it-out, predictable kind of line. You know exactly where the puck is going and what they will be doing with it, whereas with [Ovechkin] sometimes you don't have a clue. So sometimes there is a change in how you play.

"We have to make it so when we do get the puck out, we're not jammed right up against their d-men, because they do a good job of holding the red [line] and the blue [line]. When teams can do that, it is almost like having another defender because you can't go offsides and you've got to dump pucks. It is tough. We have to try and create more separation coming into the zone."
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Posted On Monday, 04.30.2012 / 12:42 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Projected Game 2 lineups

NEW YORK -- The only question surrounding the Rangers' lineup for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals is Brian Boyle, who has missed three games with a concussion but took part in the game-day skate Monday.

Boyle said he couldn't say for sure if he would play, but forward Brandon Dubinsky didn't participate in the practice and won't be in the lineup.

If Boyle feels ready, he'll return to the lineup in his customary role of third-line center. If not, the Rangers will probably ice the same lineup they did in Game 1 with defenseman Steve Eminger on the fourth line and John Mitchell moved up to Boyle's spot.

So here's an educated guess as to what the Rangers' lineup will look like if Boyle is back in the lineup.

RANGERS
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Artem Anisimov - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

As for the Capitals, Dale Hunter kept Alexander Semin on the fourth line for a second consecutive practice. Defenseman Jeff Schultz, who was a healthy scratch for Game 1, will replace Karl Alzner for Game 2. Schultz had played in Game 7 against Boston after sitting for three straight contests.

Hunter swapped wingers Troy Brouwer and Alex Ovechkin on the top line, but Brouwer said afterward they will be in their normal spots. Here's what the Capitals will likely go with trailing 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Joel Ward
Alexander Semin - Keith Aucoin - Mike Knuble

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

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Posted On Monday, 04.30.2012 / 12:10 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers have responded to Tortorella's coaching style

NEW YORK -- When Rangers coach John Tortorella arrived in February 2009, he was replacing Tom Renney, who has a well-earned reputation as a players' coach with a kindly demeanor that can endear him to those in the locker room.

Tortorella has been described as blustery, strict and strong in his beliefs, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist remembers meeting him for the first time and wondering how much of his reputation was true and how much was exaggerated rumors.

"Most of it was true," Lundqvist said. "Just how passionate he is. He can challenge you. I like that. I like to be challenged sometimes. It was refreshing to have a different style. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Just that first time he walked in and the first meeting. That's something I remember."

Tortorella guided the Rangers to the top of the Eastern Conference in his third full season with the club after an eighth-place finish last season and missing the playoffs two seasons ago. For that accomplishment, Tortorella was nominated for the Jack Adams Award on Monday along with Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues and Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators.

The 53-year-old Tortorella spent seven seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, guiding them to a Stanley Cup in 2004. He was dismissed following the 2007-08 season and briefly served as an analyst with TSN before coming to the Rangers for the final 21 games of the 2008-09 season.

Since then, Tortorella has sculpted a team in his image -- tough, physical, detail-oriented and willing to do whatever it takes to win. According to the Rangers' Brad Richards, who was with Tortorella during his entire time with the Lightning, very little has changed in his coaching style.

"The details and structure are all the same," Richards said. "Different personnel, but how the day-to-day things are ran and the accountability issues, all that's identical. You guys know him enough -- he's not going to change his ways too much."

Rangers center Brian Boyle came to the club before the start of Tortorella's first full season in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings. Since his arrival, Boyle has developed into a reliable third-line center with above-average goal-scoring ability. The 27-year-old had just four goals in 71 games in his first year with the Rangers but has 32 goals over the past two seasons.

"He had a vision, an idea of how he wanted to run the team when he first got here," Boyle said. "I wasn't there for that, but his first full year I was here for. I think we responded pretty well. We understand him pretty well and I think he understands us pretty well. He's helped my game a lot obviously. He turned me into an NHL player. He's very deserving."

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Posted On Monday, 04.30.2012 / 11:42 AM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Boyle skates, status for Game 2 uncertain

NEW YORK -- Brian Boyle, who has missed the past three games with a concussion, took part in the Rangers' game-day skate Monday but could not say for sure if he would play in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals.

"I feel pretty good," Boyle said. "I have no idea what's going to happen. This is my first time through it. Honestly, I don't know. It's ultimately my call, I think, to let them know I'm ready to play. After that, it's (coach John Tortorella's) call what the lineup is."

Boyle suffered his concussion during the first round against the Ottawa Senators when Chris Neil hit him early in the third period of Game 5. Boyle has been practicing during this series but he did not participate in the morning skate before Game 1 against Washington.

"It's tough to say right now. It's tough to tell," Boyle said. "It's tough because you don't want to focus too much on it and stress yourself out."

Boyle, who had three goals in the first round against Ottawa, pointed out the Rangers are doing just fine without him.

"Well, we're 3-0 since I've been out," Boyle said. "So it hasn't been that difficult (without him playing). It's stressful to watch, but the guys are doing a great job."

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Posted On Sunday, 04.29.2012 / 2:38 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Holtby looks to 'learn' for Game 2

NEW YORK -- In his young yet stellar career, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has lost two games in a row just once, when he went 0-2-1 in his fourth, fifth and sixth games in the NHL.

Since that hiccup, Holtby is 16-6-2 including the playoffs and hasn't dropped two straight. The 22-year-old will look to avoid his second straight loss to the Rangers after a poor performance in a 3-1 setback in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals Saturday.

"One of the things I've always been taught is bad games happen," Holtby said. "The key to consistency is not letting it happen twice. Bad things happen, but always be prepared for the next one."

All three goals allowed by Holtby were stoppable shots. Artem Anisimov beat him on a wraparound in the second period, Chris Kreider's long slap shot eluded Holtby's catching glove, and Brad Richards squeezed a shot through the goaltender's legs from a sharp angle near the left post.

Holtby said he was treating the situation as a learning experience.

"You learn way more from losing than you do from winning," Holtby said. "There's a lot to learn from that game, not only mentally but technically on some of the goals. It's just a matter of inches how I played them. It could've been a different game."

The goal Holtby lamented the most was the game-winning goal by Kreider, who said he fired a long shot instead of using the open ice to for a breakaway chance because he was exhausted at the end of the shift. Holtby attacked Kreider expecting the 1-on-1 chance, but wasn't ready for the slap shot.

"It surprised me," Holtby said. "I was out further thinking he was going to come in on a half-breakaway type thing. He released it, had a shot that fooled me, good placement, but one I definitely want to have."

Game 1 marked just the second time Holtby played at Madison Square Garden, which is notorious for having dim lighting in comparison to other NHL arenas. It didn't affect Holtby in the regular-season finale when he made 35 saves in a 4-1 victory, and the goaltender said that can't be an excuse for not playing well.

"Most of the new buildings are really bright and really white," Holtby said. "It is harder for a goalie, but both teams play with it. It’s not like (Rangers goaltender Henrik) Lundqvist at the other end has better sights than I do. It's hard, but both teams deal with it."

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Posted On Sunday, 04.29.2012 / 2:27 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Semin skates with fourth line at Caps' practice

NEW YORK -- Alex Semin was an effective player for the Capitals during their first-round, seven-game series win against the Boston Bruins. He had three goals in the series and was showing a commitment to the defensive side of the game.

Semin was out of sorts Saturday during the Capitals' 3-1 loss to the Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, however. He took two penalties, one of which was a retaliatory penalty after he was hit by Rangers captain Ryan Callahan that negated a power play, had zero points and was on the ice for Chris Kreider's game-winning goal in the third period.

On Sunday, Semin found himself demoted to the fourth line with Mike Knuble and Keith Aucoin at practice. Coach Dale Hunter said he was not sending a message with the move and defended his player's penalties.

"No, just mixing the lines up," Hunter said. "The one, he went for the puck and he hit a skate. The other one, both of them should've went. It was a cross check. If you watch the replay, the guy cross checked him first. But you can't retaliate. You just can't retaliate. The ref, he called one. He could've easily called two. But that's the way it goes."

Semin nearly scored during a second-period power play, but his wrist shot deflected off the arm of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the crossbar. Hunter said he expects Semin to continue to have an impact on the power play.

Defenseman Jeff Schultz, a healthy scratch for Game 1, was back with Dennis Wideman at practice with John Erskine out of the top-six mix.

Here are the rest of the line combinations from practice, none of which are guaranteed to hold during Game 2 of the series Monday night.

Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Joel Ward
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Alexander Semin

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

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Posted On Sunday, 04.29.2012 / 1:26 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Boyle feeling better, still not sure about Game 2

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Rangers coach John Tortorella offered "no updates" on the status of injured forwards Brian Boyle (concussion) and Brandon Dubinsky (lower-body) after the team's optional practice Sunday.

Boyle appeared much closer to returning than Dubinsky, who was seen walking with crutches toward the training room once the media was allowed to enter the dressing room.

Dubinsky hurt himself in Game 7 against Ottawa and did not play in Game 1 against Washington Saturday.

Boyle went out of the lineup with a concussion prior to Game 6 against Ottawa, but said he is "feeling better each day." He skated hard Saturday morning and responded well. He was one of only 12 players on the ice Sunday.

Boyle said he has not had any setbacks, but he's not sure of what his status is for Game 2 Monday.

"It's progressed, but they're (concussions) not consistent with each guy," Boyle said. "Each guy feels different symptoms. So, I'm just trying to be honest with myself."

Boyle couldn't answer a question about if he would be able to play in Game 2 because he still has to talk with trainer Jim Ramsay as well as Tortorella.

"I wouldn't have really skated if I still felt foggy," he said. "I'm feeling better and better, so we'll see."

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 3:00 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Boyle and Dubinsky out

NEW YORK -- Forwards Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky will not be in the lineup Saturday afternoon as the Rangers open their Eastern Conference Semi-final series with the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden.

Boyle (concussion) missed Games 6 and 7 of the Rangers' first-round series with the Ottawa Senators after taking a bone-jarring hit from Chris Neil in Game 5. Boyle practiced for the first time since the hit Friday and said his availability would depend on how he felt in the hours after practice.

Dubinsky (lower body) absorbed a hit late in Game 7 against the Senators and did not return to the ice for the game’s final 11 minutes and did not practice Friday.

Defenseman Steve Eminger is in the lineup for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in mid-March. Defenseman
Stu Bickel has played forward at times this season, but Eminger took line rushes in pregame warmups with Mike Rupp and John Mitchell. Eminger has played some forward during his career.

Here's what the Rangers' line combinations looked like in warmups:

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Artem Anisimov - Brandon Prust
Steve Eminger - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron
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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:40 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Washington lineup for Game 1

NEW YORK -- The Capitals and the Rangers are meeting for the third time in the last four postseasons. Washington forward Matt Hendricks doesn't think it'll take too long for the teams to get reacquainted.

"Hate is a strong word, but we battle against them," Hendricks said. "This is a team that I think we match up very well with. They're physical, they play a defensive style, they block a lot of shots. When you find teams that are similar with your team you seem to have those tight, close games where you're getting under each other's skin. There is a little bit of a dislike there for each other. We've met in the playoffs here, so it's going to be a good one, I think."

Game 1 is Saturday at 3 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden.

Here is the Capitals' lineup:

Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alexander Semin
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Matt Hendricks
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
John Erskine - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Hunter offers more praise for Holtby

NEW YORK -- Capitals coach Dale Hunter predictably did not offer any updates on his lineup during his chat with the media roughly two hours before Game 1 on Saturday. However, Hunter did have some strong words of encouragement for defenseman Jeff Schultz, who played more than 11 minutes in Game 7 against Boston on Wednesday.

"Schultzie gave us a good game," the typically understated Hunter said. "He's a big guy, he moves the puck well, and we need some more size."

If Schultz plays in Game 1 against the Rangers, he'll likely be paired with Dennis Wideman.

One absolute certainty for the Capitals on Saturday is that Braden Holtby will be between the pipes. The 22-year-old rookie goalie got the best of Boston's All-Star Tim Thomas in the first round.

Holtby played every minute for the Capitals, finishing with a 2.00 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. He may have surprised a lot of people in the hockey community considering he was No. 3 on Washington's depth chart for virtually the entire season, but Hunter expected Holtby to be excellent against the Bruins.

"Even down the stretch we were battling for the playoffs he had to go into Detroit, we needed the points, he won," Hunter said. "We went into Philadelphia, we lost in overtime, but we got a point. He's a battler. The kid battles. He's got a great personality about him that he doesn't let stuff bother him."

Holtby's play has drawn comparisons to Ken Dryden, who played in only six regular-season games in 1970-71 before leading the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup championship that spring. Holtby, of course, played in only seven games for the Caps in 2011-12.

Hunter said he isn't concerned about Holtby getting caught up in his own press clippings.

"With this kid you don't have to. He's not like that," Hunter said. "He's one of the hardest working goalies in practice. He just keeps working and he's having fun with it. He has fun playing hockey. It's always much better when you're playing well, but whatever happens he's going to still have his work ethic and he's going to battle."

Since Holtby has already knocked Thomas out of the playoffs, the Capitals believe he can do the same to Henrik Lundqvist, who is a finalist for both the Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy.

"He (just) battled against one of the best goalies in the League and now he has to do it again with another one of the top goalies in the League," Hunter said. "He knows it, but he's a battler. He's got a good head on his shoulders."

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:13 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

No pre-game updates on Boyle, Dubinsky

NEW YORK -- Rangers coach John Tortorella offered no updates on injured forwards Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky on Satuirday afternoon.

Boyle (concussion) and Dubinsky (lower-body) will likely be game-time decisions as the Rangers face the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at Madison Square Garden.

Boyle missed Games 6 and 7 of the Rangers' first-round series with the Ottawa Senators after taking a jarring hit from Chris Neil in Game 5. Boyle practiced for the first time since the hit Friday and said his availability would depend on how he felt in the hours after practice.

Dubinsky absorbed a hit late in Game 7 against the Senators and did not return to the ice for the final 11 minutes and did not practice Friday.

If one or both are unable to play, defenseman Steve Eminger could return to the lineup for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in mid-March. Tortorella could also move defenseman Stu Bickel to forward, a position he played earlier in the season. Forward John Scott, who has yet to appear in the postseason and hasn't played since March 9.

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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 6:39 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Holtby ready for the bright lights of New York

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Braden Holtby is ready for the bright lights of New York -- even though, he says, the lights aren't actually that bright after all.

"It's just a different color in there," Holtby said of playing in New York's Madison Square Garden. "It's almost a yellow."

Holtby spoke Friday about his limited experience playing in "The World's Most Famous Arena" as the Washington Capitals prepared for the opener of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the top-seeded New York Rangers.

The rookie goaltender started the Caps' regular-season finale in New York and turned aside 35 of 36 Rangers' shots in a 4-1 Washington win. The loss kept the Rangers from claiming the Presidents' Trophy.

Exactly three weeks after his first career start in New York, Holtby will start again for the Capitals in Game 1 on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC). Holtby believes his having played in New York once before will make him feel more at ease with the surroundings.

"Especially with getting used to the lighting and whatnot and the different confines," he said. "It's not exactly your typical building. It was good to play in it… Darker buildings usually it impact the goalies more than usual."

Holtby says that he's confident that the arena lightning won't be a distraction and that he's not worried about the hostile environment that will greet the Caps in New York.

"It doesn't bother me that much," he said. "That's what everyone pays the money for is to have their two cents. It's good. It's not motivation, but it's definitely fun… If someone was playing the [Toronto Blue] Jays in the playoffs or something, I'd probably heckle them, too. That's what happens. It's hockey. It's fun. It adds to the intensity and it's a good thing."

Holtby became the third rookie goalie to backstop a team to a series win over the defending Stanley Cup champions when the Caps eliminated the Boston Bruins in seven games in Round 1. The 22-year-old stopped 31 shots in the Caps' 2-1 overtime win in Game 7, and he enters Round 2 with a 2.00 goals-against-average and .940 save percentage.

"I don't feel more comfortable or anything," Holtby said of his confidence now compared to before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began. "Not that I felt uncomfortable before. It's still the same. We're still a confident group in here. I still feel confident in my abilities that I can give this team a chance to win. It doesn't change much. It's still the Capitals vs. Rangers."

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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 4:25 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Boyle skates with teammates

New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle skated Friday for the first time since suffering a concussion during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators five days ago.

Boyle, who had three goals in five games against the Senators, rode a stationary bike Thursday morning and was cleared to participate in on-ice activities. As is the case when recovering from any concussion, how Boyle feels after exerting himself will determine his availability for Game 1 of the conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

"This is my first day on the ice. I felt pretty good, but we'll see," Boyle told reporters at the Rangers' practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. "It's all how you react when you take another step, so I have no idea."

Boyle sustained his concussion when Senators forward Chris Neil delivered a huge body check just after Boyle released a shot early in the third period. Boyle returned to play several shifts after the hit, but eventually left the bench with about two minutes left and missed the final two games of the series.

The third-line center's absence became a rallying point for the Rangers in Game 6, as forward Brandon Prust fought Neil with the Senators leading 1-0 late in the first period. The Rangers would score the next three goals in a season-saving 3-2 victory in Ottawa.

"That means a lot to me," Boyle told reporters. "The teammate thing and the whole code and all that, that's great. But the whole friendship thing ... they were texting me and it felt really good. I felt blessed and loved and everything you can say. That was pretty awesome."

To fill Boyle's role on the third line, Rangers coach John Tortorella moved Brandon Dubinsky into that spot. But Dubinsky missed the final 11 minutes of Game 7 against the Senators on Thursday with a likely lower-body injury and did not participate in practice Friday.

When asked about the status of Boyle and Dubinsky, Tortorella told reporters, "No update."

If Boyle avoids a setback and Dubinsky isn't well enough, it's a simple lineup swap. But if both players are unavailable for the series opener against the Capitals, Tortorella could insert defenseman Steve Eminger, who hasn't played since March 15 due to an ankle injury, into the lineup. Eminger could act as a seventh defenseman or it could allow defenseman Stu Bickel to act as the 12th forward, a role he played briefly in the regular season.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 3:36 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Hunter helped trio of Rangers reach NHL

ARLINGTON, Va. – Dan Girardi was an undrafted and over-aged junior defenseman playing for his third team in the Ontario Hockey League when he first got to know Dale Hunter.

At the time it may have been hard to imagine Girardi someday becoming an all-star defenseman in the NHL, but being traded to Hunter’s London Knights during the 2004-05 season proved to be a tremendous stepping stone in his development.

Five months after joining one of the best junior teams in Canadian Hockey League history, the 21-year-old found himself matched against a 17-year-old phenom and the projected No. 1 pick in the forthcoming NHL Draft, in a best-of-one national championship.
 
“We won the Memorial Cup with him and Marc Methot shutting down Sidney Crosby,” Hunter recalled Friday as his Washington Capitals prepared to face Girardi and the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

“I think that really jumpstarted my career,” Girardi said earlier this season of his experience in London. “Teams want guys that know how to win and can win those big championships even in a junior league. I think [Hunter] trading for me from Guelph was a big point in my career… Obviously it helped open some doors with the Rangers and now I’m here.”

Nearly seven years later, Girardi played in his first career NHL All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the NHL in average ice-time (26:14 per game) and fifth in blocked shots (185).

Girardi has become one of the premier shutdown defensemen in the League and will likely be entrusted with containing Alex Ovechkin and Washington’s No.1 line when their series begins Saturday in New York (3:00, ET, NBC).

 “We knew when we got him [in a trade from the Guelph Storm] that he was a great defensive player,” Hunter said. “He was never drafted and he played as an over-aged [player] so it’s a credit to a young man that’s a battler, which every coach likes.”

In addition to Girardi, his New York teammates Brandon Prust (2002-05) and Michael Del Zotto (2009) also played for Hunter in London.
 
“A heart and soul kind of guy,” Hunter said of Prust. “He’s a battler too, another guy that was a walk-on to our team. He’s one of these kids that will battle and play hard. You see him blocking shots and he’s a special player.”

Prust played three seasons for Hunter, collecting 41 goals, 111 points and 537 penalty minutes in 177 OHL games.

“He said to me one time when I was going to sit him out when he first came to me -- we were in Windsor -- and he said: “Play me coach and you’ll never take me out.” I played him and I never took him out.

“It’s good to see from him that’s doing so well. Hopefully not against us, but through his career so far.”

Del Zotto spent less time in London than either Girardi or Prust, having been dealt to the Knights in a 2009 deadline deal along with John Tavares.

But in 42 regular and post-season games with the Knights, Del Zotto recorded nine goals and 49 points and teamed up with Capitals defenseman John Carlson to form London’s No. 1 defensive pairing.

“It was awesome,” Del Zotto said earlier this season of his experience playing for Hunter. “They treat their players like pros and Dale has been through the ranks, he’s played and so he understands how to treat the players. He was great for me.”

Added Hunter: “[Del Zotto] was the same type of D [in junior]. He jumps up in every play, he’s involved, he’s a power-play guy and he hits. He’s an aggressive guy. You know his offense, but you’ll see when he gets big hits out there that we’ll have to be ready for it. He’s had a good career so far.”

It’s clear that Girardi, Prust and Del Zotto have all enjoyed NHL success playing the same types of games that got them noticed in London. Similarly, according to former players like Del Zotto, it doesn’t like Hunter has changed much either.
 
“If you’re not playing well and you’re one of the big guys,” Del Zotto said, “He’s not afraid to come after you and I think that’s pretty important. You can’t just let guys roam around and do whatever they want. They have to buy into the structure and buy into the team and he’s not afraid to put his foot down.”
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 12:51 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Ward receives standing ovation at Caps practice

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward took the ice at practice Friday morning and was met with a standing ovation from about 100 fans in attendance, as well stick-taps from his teammates.

Ward’s game-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 Wednesday against the Boston Bruins sent the Caps to the Eastern Conference Semifinals where they will face the New York Rangers beginning Saturday (3:00 p.m., ET, NBC).

The biggest goal of Ward’s career, however, was partially overshadowed by racial slurs that were posted Wednesday night on social networking websites including Twitter.

Ward told a Washington radio station Friday that “words don’t hurt me,” and said he was disappointed that the online comments have kept his teammates from receiving attention for the series. Ward singled out goalie Braden Holtby, who was brilliant throughout the series and became just the third rookie goalie in the history of the League to eliminate the defending champions.

"There's been a lot of support from everybody, especially my teammates and then the whole organization and even the opposition and the Bruins and some of their fans," Ward said after practice. "It's been overwhelming. A lot's been going on. I'm just trying to embrace it as best I can."

Ward also said Friday morning that he received a congratulatory and supportive text message from Boston Bruins forward Rich Peverley.
 
NOTES: The Capitals practiced Friday with the lines and defensive pairings listed below.

Alex OvechkinBrooks LaichTroy Brouwer
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas BackstromAlexander Semin
Matt HendricksJay BeagleJason Chimera
Mike KnubleKeith AucoinJoel Ward
Mattias SjogrenJeff HalpernMathieu Perreault
 
Karl AlznerJohn Carlson
Roman HamrlikMike Green
Jeff SchultzDennis Wideman
John Erskine - Dmitry Orlov
 
Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 12:40 AM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers and Caps to renew playoff rivalry

NEW YORK -- For the third time in four years, the Rangers will face the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Things have not gone well for the Rangers in those matchups, both of which occurred in the first round. In 2009, the seventh-seeded Rangers let a 3-1 series lead slip away and lost in seven games. Last year, the eighth-seeded Rangers lost in five games to the top-seeded Caps.

The shoe is on the other foot this time around -- the Rangers enter the series as the No. 1 team in the East with the seventh-seeded Capitals as the underdogs.

None of that matters to Henrik Lundqvist, the losing goalie in those previous two encounters.

"The past is the past," Lundqvist said after the Rangers won Game 7 by beating Ottawa 2-1 on Thursday. "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."

The Caps have won four of the previous six postseason meetings between the teams. But both of the Rangers' wins have come in this round -- New York upset Washington in 1986 and beat the Caps in five in 1994 on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.

The teams split four games during the regular season, with team earning a victory in the other's building.

"I don't know honestly how much is going to change game-wise," Lundqvist said. "It's the playoffs. It's more physical. It might be similar, maybe not, who knows, but for me personally it doesn't really change. I'm going to approach it the same way and I have to play my game the same way. So, yeah, it doesn't change for me."

Both teams are coming off seven-game series and won't have much rest entering the conference semifinals.

"They went seven games as well and have very confident players," Rangers forward Marian Gaborik said. "We have to get ready for those guys and play our game. It's going to be another tough series."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter; @DaveLozo

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