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Capitals better prepared, equipped to face Rangers

by Katie Brown

ARLINGTON, Va. -- For the fifth time since 2009, the Washington Capitals will play the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For some players, it's fun to play an opponent they know so well. At this point, seeing the Rangers in the playoffs is routine for the Capitals.

"It just feels right that we play them again," Washington goaltender Braden Holtby said. "We've had great series with them before and it's going to be another tough one, a very big challenge for us. We've embraced challenges all year, so we're very excited about this one."

Washington's past two playoff exits were losses to New York. The last time the Capitals competed against the Rangers in the playoffs was 2013, when they were eliminated from the Eastern Conference First Round in seven games.

This is the first year since 2012 that Washington has advanced to the second round.

"I think this year we're a lot more prepared," Holtby said. "It's a different vibe than we've had in the past. I know that doesn't mean things come easier any which way. It's just you can tell we're prepared. We're excited to play this series. We're not so focused on the result; we're focused on playing really good hockey."

Holtby relishes competing against someone at the top of their game, like Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Holtby and Lundqvist are second and third in save percentage among playoff goalies, behind Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators.

"I really enjoy playing against guys like that," Holtby said. "I've never been a guy that really sees the heated rivalry between a goalie on one side or the other. I like playing against guys that do the right things professionally and not only with their work on the ice, but off the ice. They're good humans, and obviously Henrik is. It's fun to play hockey that way. You know it's going to be an honest game on both sides and we can just focus on playing the best series we can."

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he expects many aspects of the first-round series against the New York Islanders to carry over to the second round with the Rangers, especially the bone-crushing hits and relentless forecheck. That's what Trotz believes separates playoff teams and non-playoff teams.

"You look at every series, there's an extremely high physical investment up and down the ice," Trotz said. "Every game, you have to fight for your inches, and to be successful in the playoffs you have to fight for your inches. The teams that got to the playoffs and the teams that are still in the playoffs, they fight for those inches. That's why they're playoff teams and that's why they're still in the playoffs."

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