shavings capsrangers game 1

Opening Night – The Caps and Rangers are set to tangle in Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The matchup pits the League’s top regular season team – New York – against the Caps, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and the last of the 16 playoff combatants to nail down their postseason berth.

The Game 1 fates of the Caps’ two ailing blueliners – Nick Jensen and Rasmus Sandin – won’t be known until warm-ups, but these two teams are otherwise ready to roll after several days between games, a needed respite for rest, practice and healing.

Having played “virtual” playoff hockey for weeks – if not months – now, the Caps believe their recent game will translate well into the playoff landscape, but there are some cautions.

“I think it helps from our game standpoint,” says Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery. “We know exactly what our ‘playoff style’ looks like, and the things that we need to do from a tactical, team standpoint. That's in a pretty good spot, and it should give us some confidence going into the playoffs.

“Now, we need to realize very quickly – which hopefully we hit the ground running tonight – and understand that the intensity is going to be that much higher, and the physicality, and the pace of the game, a hostile environment – those things will be exponentially larger than what we have just gone through. So, there's two parts of it: one is that areas of our game; we need to continue to do those things playoff style, with attention to details inside of our game. But [we need to] know that the requirements here are going to be exponentially higher.”

Former Caps’ coach Peter Laviolette is in his first season at the Rangers’ helm, and he believes that his familiarity with the Washington roster is mitigated by the Caps’ knowledge of his style and tendencies.

“It made it easier when I went over their lineup and their players, just because of that familiarity that I had for three years,” says Laviolette. “But I’ve said this before; that comes backwards as well. They’re pretty familiar with how we play and things that we do on the ice, so I think there is give and take with that. But knowing a lot of the personnel makes it easy to talk about, because you have that first-hand knowledge of the players and the system that they play.

“We rely a lot on the games that we played against them and the video that we watched down the stretch just to kind of pull what they’re doing, and to formulate a plan from there.”

Carbery worked alongside Laviolette in the Washington system in the Rangers’ bench boss’ first season in the District; Carbery was the head coach of the AHL Hershey Bears at the time.

“Systematically, we have that pretty much dialed in and know exactly what to expect from a system standpoint,” says Carbery of the Rangers. “But that that gives you the blueprint, but now there's a lot of players inside of that that are going to dictate what happens inside of the structure. So yeah, it helps our pre-scouts, and our guys know the systems, and played the system for the last three years – or some of our guys, not as many as you would think at this point.

“But now you’ve got to go out and execute, and that's inside of the system, whether it's a neutral zone forecheck; we have to be able to execute to get through that. Because it's one that we know exactly what's going to happen; we've seen the 1-3-1 we know exactly what it looks like. Now you have to go execute your way through that, and they're trying to execute to stop us from getting through that. Whoever is going to be able to do that at a higher level will have an advantage. I think that knowing what's coming is great, but then you’ve got to execute through that.”

New York, New York – The Caps are facing the Rangers in the postseason for the first time since 2015. Known as “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” Madison Square Garden provides quite the backdrop for Stanley Cup playoff hockey, and it has done so for decades.

“I’ve played them a few times in big games,” says Caps’ right wing Tom Wilson, who made his NHL debut against the Rangers in the playoffs in 2013, playing his first NHL road game in that building. “Obviously my first playoff series ever was at MSG, and it’s a great atmosphere. It’s a really fun place to play playoff games.

“I remember the atmosphere. It’s pretty crazy to think that I was only a couple days into my NHL career going into that situation. But sometimes you’re young and dumb, and you don’t realize it. Fast forward to now, you’ve got a little bit more experience and we’ll have to be there for the younger guys coming in. Every day you get more experience in this League, and I think that’s an exciting opportunity for this group is just to come together, battle day by day, and keep working on our game.”

Caps right wing Beck Malenstyn made his NHL debut at MSG on Nov. 19, 2019. On Sunday, he will make his NHL playoff debut at the same storied venue.

“This is a new experience for me, and getting to experience it at one of the more historic venues in sports is pretty special,” says Malenstyn. “Obviously, I won’t think about it too, too much; it’s been nice to play some games there now. I’ve heard the atmosphere in New York City at playoff time is electric, so it’s just going to be really fun to soak that all in. And getting to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time and getting to experience that, I’m just really excited.”

Last spring, Caps’ goaltender Charlie Lindgren trekked up to Madison Square Garden to take in one of brother Ryan’s first-round playoff games here in the Big Apple. Charlie is expected to make his own Stanley Cup playoff debut today – though he did back up Montreal’s Carey Price during the “bubble” playoffs – but he has already had a small taste of what MSG is like at this time of year.

“It’s something that I’m really looking forward to,” says Lindgren. “I was backing up Price in the 2020 COVID bubble, with zero people in the stands. It’s a totally different ballgame when you’ve got a sellout crowd and they’re booing you and booing the team.

“I ended up going to a playoff game there last year when Ryan played the Devils, so I got feel for what it’s going to be like that way. But I’m definitely looking forward to posting up on Sunday.”

Washington defenseman Dylan McIlrath was a first-round pick of the Rangers in the 2010 NHL Draft, and he started his career with the Blueshirts. McIlrath’s lone game of Stanley Cup playoff experience came with the Rangers back in 2016, but it was on the road in Pittsburgh. He has fond recollections of playing at MSG and is looking forward to doing so on the playoff stage.

“It’ll be sentimental getting back into the Garden,” says McIlrath. “Obviously that’s where I started my career and played my first game. I have really good memories from there and I met a lot of good people along the way. But it’s about the Washington Capitals now; it’d definitely not about me. We know we’re the underdogs here, and we’re just going to go in there and work.”

In The Nets – The fortunes of the 2023-24 Capitals – and Lindgren’s NHL career – took a sharp turn for the better when Washington was last in the Big Apple to face the Rangers back on Jan. 14 in the second game of a home-and-home set. Lindgren started and won the Saturday afternoon game – a 3-2 Caps win – against the Rangers in Washington on Jan. 13, so it was surprising when Carbery named him to start the back half of the set in New York an afternoon later. Lindgren lost the second game 2-1, but since that weekend, no NHL goaltender has played or started more games than him, and none has notched more shutouts (four) than him.

Darcy Kuemper had started three straight Washington games ahead of that home-and-home set with the Blueshirts in mid-January, but he has not started consecutive games since. The Caps cast their lot with Lindgren just over three months ago, and he backstopped the Caps to a playoff berth, and is now set to make his playoff debut.

Lindgren started 19 of Washington’s last 22 games, posting a 12-6-2 mark with three shutouts, a 2.39 GAA and a .919 save pct. The Capitals’ final 22 games were played in a span of just 41 nights, and Lindgren led the League in games (20), starts and wins over that span. The rhythm of playing virtually every other day agreed with Lindgren.

“When you play a lot of games, you just know what it’s like to be in a hockey game,” says Lindgren. “Last year, I was sitting around for two or two and a half weeks sometimes between games, and so you play a game and then you’re practicing 10 times before your next game. And so right away, in the first few minutes, you’re trying to get the feel for the puck again, and to get the feel for just the rhythm of the play.

“I think the rhythm is a big part of it. When I was playing a lot of games, I was obviously in the rhythm of the game, and you just step in every 60 minutes and you know what it’s like to play a hockey game. But it’s nice when you play 48 hours apart because you’re fresh mentally and you’re able to prepare yourself physically again; I’m not saying you’re completely fresh, but I actually enjoy playing a lot of games.”

Lifetime against the Rangers, Lindgren is 2-1-0 with a shutout, a 1.35 GAA and a .955 save pct. in three appearances, all starts.

For the Rangers, Igor Shesterkin is the Game 1 starter. With 36 regular season victories, Shesterkin finished in a tie for third in the NHL in that category. In his last 23 starts of the regular season – his post-All-Star body of work – Shesterkin went 17-5-1 with four shutouts, a 2.20 GAA and a .929 save pct.

Lifetime against the Capitals, Shesterkin is 8-4-0 with a 2.59 GAA and a .916 save pct. in a dozen appearances, all starts.

All Lined Up – Here’s how the Caps and Rangers might look when they take the ice Sunday afternoon at MSG for the first-round series opener:



8-Ovechkin, 17-Strome, 43-Wilson

21-Protas, 24-McMichael, 77-Oshie

67-Pacioretty, 29-Lapierre, 15-Milano

47-Malenstyn, 26-Dowd, 96-Aubé-Kubel


42-Fehervary, 74-Carlson

57-van Riemsdyk, 2-Iorio

27-Alexeyev, 52-McIlrath





3-Jensen (upper body)

19-Backstrom (lower body)

25-Bear (NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program)

38-Sandin (upper body)








20-Kreider, 93-Zibanejad, 96-Roslovic

10-Panarin, 16-Trocheck, 13-Lafreniere

50-Cuylle, 91-Wennberg, 24-Kakko

26-Vesey, 21-Goodrow, 73-Rempe


55-Lindgren, 23-Fox

79-Miller, 4-Schneider

56-Gustafsson, 8-Trouba





17-Wheeler (lower body)

72-Chytil (upper body)