April 21 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden

Time: 3:00 p.m.


Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7

Game 1, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series

Washington Capitals (40-31-11)

New York Rangers (55-23-4)

Following a thrill ride of a regular season, the Caps are set to get back to battling in the Stanley Cup playoffs after a one-year absence. On Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, the Caps and the New York Rangers renew postseason acquaintances for the first time since 2015 when they clash in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

The Rangers are the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning team for 2023-24; their 114 points was just enough to nip Dallas (113) for the honor of being the League’s top regular season team. With 91 points, the Caps are at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of regular season point totals. They finished 23 points and 15 victories behind the Blueshirts.

“We all understand how we have to play, what kind of team New York is going to be,” says Caps’ captain Alex Ovechkin. “We’re just going to play game by game and see what happens.”

The Caps know what they’re up against, and they know they’re heavy underdogs in this series. And even though it took everything they had just to get this far, and to squeeze their way into the postseason, they’re not simply happy to be here. The Washington roster is populated with a group of veterans who are thrilled to be back in the playoffs after missing out last spring, and they’re determined to make the most of this latest opportunity.

“Anything can happen in the playoffs,” says Caps’ left wing Max Pacioretty. “And when you have veterans who have won before and have played a lot of meaningful games, it gives you an even better chance. We know the script that’s out there; we’re playing the best team in the League, probably the best goalie, some of the most depth, some of the best [defensemen], a borderline MVP player. That being said, in the playoffs all bets are off. You’ve got to show your best for four games, and that’s why it’s exciting.”

The Caps also have a sizeable group of young players who may not be brimming with Stanley Cup playoff experience, but a handful of young Caps were members of the 2023 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears. They’ll be getting their first taste of Stanley Cup playoff hockey, but they’ve got a good idea of what it takes to go on a lengthy and successful playoff run.

“We have a great mix of guys who have done it before, who want to get back there, and guys who haven’t been there before who want to prove that they can help the team win in the playoffs,” says Caps’ center Connor McMichael, one of eight Calder Cup champs from 2023 currently on the Washington roster. “I think we had a perfect mix; we had guys who are hungry to win it again. It was great for the young guys to lean on the guys that had that experience and get after it.”

“It’s fun to see guys experience it for their first times,” says Caps’ right wing Tom Wilson. “Obviously, they’ll depend on the guys who have experience, and every individual will go about it their own way. Thinking back to all the different playoffs, each one is so different, and I think this year will be again a different feel for our group. There is just an excitement level of going in and trying to make some noise, and in having a bunch of guys who are at different stages of their careers and different experience levels come together to try and win some playoff games.”

Back in mid-January, the Caps faced the Rangers in a home-and-home set of weekend matinee matches at almost the exact midpoint of the season. Heading into those two games against the Blueshirts, Darcy Kuemper had started 21 games to 14 for Charlie Lindgren, and Kuemper had 10 wins to Lindgren’s seven. Kuemper had started each of Washington’s prior three games going into that weekend, but that’s when the script flipped. Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery surprised media by announcing Lindgren as his starter for the second of that set of back-to-backs in New York on Sunday, Jan. 14.

Over the remainder of the season, Lindgren started 34 of Washington’s last 43 games, and he earned 18 of the Caps’ last 21 victories. No goaltender in the NHL played or started more games than Lindgren over that span, and none notched more shutouts (four) than him, either.

As the Caps embark upon their playoff return, the 30-year-old Lindgren is their undisputed No. 1 netminder, and he now becomes the first goaltender to make his playoff debut at the age of 30 or older for Washington.

“I’ve had a blast,” says Lindgren. “I said it after the Boston game [last Monday]; I’ve dreamed about this for 20 years – legitimately – just to have the chance to play a lot of games and just the faith that this team has put in me, I appreciate it greatly and I’ve had an absolute blast this whole season.”

Lindgren’s play helped make this season a blast for his teammates too; they wouldn’t be here without him.

“It’s been special to watch, for sure,” says Caps’ right wing T.J. Oshie of Lindgren. “His work ethic – not only in games, but in practice as well – is definitely noticed. And to see all that work be rewarded is awesome. You’re always cheering on your teammates and wanting the best for them. And anyone that meets Chucky or sees him, or even comes to a game and watches how hard he battles in there, it’s hard not to root for that guy.”

Now, Lindgren gets a chance to battle the Rangers – and brother Ryan, a New York blueliner – in his first taste of Stanley Cup playoff action.

“It’s obviously exciting,” says the Caps’ netminder. “I’ve got a lot of love for my brother. And I’ve got a lot of respect for the way he plays the game. And my parents, and my brother, and my grandpa, everyone’s extremely excited. But I don’t want to lose focus; it’s not me vs. my brother, it’s the Capitals vs. the Rangers. I care so much about this team and this organization, I don’t want to make it about anything else. I just want to focus on Game 1 against the Rangers, and just put everything I can into this Capitals’ organization.”

New York finished the season with a flourish, going 26-7-1 in its final 34 games and setting a franchise record for wins (55). Artemi Panarin led the Blueshirts with 49 goals and 120 points, but the Rangers boast five skaters with 20 or more goals and nine who have registered double-digit goal totals.

The Rangers finished the season seventh in goals scored and goals against, and they feature the League’s third-best power play and its third-best penalty killing outfit. The Caps know they’re going to have their hands full in this series against the NHL’s top regular season team.

“You look at the Rangers, they’re quite the opponent,” says Lindgren. “Presidents’ Trophy winners, top to bottom from their forward group, their defense group, to their goaltending, it’s elite. When it comes to this matchup, we know that we’ve got to put everything we’ve got into it. But I have a lot of confidence in this group and what we’ve gone through this year. It again prepares us for this match-up, but looking at that opponent, we have a lot of respect for what they do, for what they’ve done, and so we’ve got to be ready.”