WASHINGTON -- When the New York Rangers last saw Verizon Center, they were mobbing goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who had just completed back-to-back shutouts, in celebration after a 5-0 Game 7 win against the Washington Capitals, matching the most lopsided winner-take-all win by a road team in NHL history.
Shocked and overwhelmed by their sudden change in fortunes, all the despondent Capitals could do was stare blankly in bewilderment.
Five months later, the new Metropolitan Division rivals will renew what has become one of the most contestable rivalries in the League when the Rangers' season-opening nine-game road trip takes them to Washington to face the Capitals as part of NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2, RDS2).
"It's been a good rivalry over the past few years with the playoffs series," Rangers center Brian Boyle told NHL.com. "I think that kind of builds a little bit of tension, and then when you play each other and face each other more and more even in the regular season, that tension can keep building on. I think it starts with the playoff series that we've had in the past. Each team's had a little success with each other."
The Rangers and Capitals meeting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has become an annual rite of spring. In four matchups over the past five seasons, New York and Washington have played a total of 26 postseason games against each other, 18 of which have been decided by one goal. The first two series in 2009 and 2011 went Washington's way, while the last two in 2012 and 2013 have been clinched by New York in Game 7 victories.
"There's a lot of overtime games, a lot of long, physical battles-of-attrition type games, where we've lost and where we've won," Boyle said. "Personnel's changed, teams have changed a little bit, but we've had some battles."
Both teams, perennial postseason participants, enter the game Wednesday in the midst of early-season struggles. At 2-4-0, the Capitals are relying on their potent power play to keep them afloat, while the 1-4-0 Rangers look nothing like the stalwart defensive team they are accustomed to being, having allowed a League-high 5.00 goals per game.
As Boyle alluded to, there have been changes on both sides, primarily for the Rangers, who are adjusting to coach Alain Vigneault's more up-tempo system.
That being said, the Capitals, all too familiar with having to adapt to a new coach and style of play after having done so multiple times in recent seasons, are preparing for the Rangers as a completely different team.
"It's kind of a huge rivalry for both sides," Alex Ovechkin said. "Of course, we play a lot against each other over the last couple years, but it's going to be interesting to see how they change with a new coach and probably a new system's going to be there."
Both teams are seeking some sort of spark to carry them out of their respective slumps, which should only add to the built-in intensity and intrigue of another Rangers-Capitals matchup.
"It's just a big game for us," Boyle said. "I think we need to try to get some points here, get a win. It's a challenge. We're a pretty desperate club right now, but they're probably feeling the same way."