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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

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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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."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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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.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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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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