CAPITALS at RANGERS
TV: NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Game 1 of best-of-7 series
Martin St. Louis will replace injured Mats Zuccarello at right wing on the New York Rangers' top line Thursday for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers expect to have a healthy defense, which means the return of Kevin Klein, who has been out since March 11 when he was injured blocking an Alex Ovechkin shot during New York's 3-1 win at Verizon Center.
The Capitals won't have center Eric Fehr for Game 1, but he is making the trip to New York, and Washington coach Barry Trotz did not rule out Fehr's return for Game 2. He has not played since sustaining an upper-body injury in Game 3 of the first round against the New York Islanders.
Zuccarello is out indefinitely because of an upper-body injury sustained when he was hit in the head by a slap shot by teammate Ryan McDonagh late in the first period of Game 5 of the first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
St. Louis will move from the third line to the first line to take Zuccarello's spot alongside Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. Jesper Fast will move from the fourth line to take St. Louis' spot on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin.
James Sheppard is expected to get into the lineup on the fourth line after being a healthy scratch for all five games against the Penguins.
The Rangers and Capitals each have ingredients that enable them to be successful in all different types of games, but the series between the two Stanley Cup Playoff rivals could come down to one simple matchup: New York's speed against Washington's physicality.
The team that gets to their game quicker and plays their style better likely will move on to the Eastern Conference Final.
"Our biggest reason we had success this year is because we do try to play as fast as possible," Rangers center Derek Stepan said. "You're still going to get hit, it's not going to change that. But if we are able to work in groups of five, have close support and talk, we might be able to get through [the Capitals] finishing their checks."
The Rangers will have to contend with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom after limiting the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the first round. Crosby had two goals in Game 2 and four points in the series, but New York kept Malkin off the scoresheet.
"The same challenge and test is in front of us," New York coach Alain Vigneault said. "Obviously Ovechkin might be a little more physical than both Crosby and Malkin, but it's going to be a major challenge for us, a major test for us, and I think our guys are looking forward to it."
The Capitals advanced by defeating the Islanders in a physical, punch-counterpunch, seven-game series. The Capitals knocked two of the Islanders' top defensemen out of the series and were helped by the emergence of center Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov scored the winning goal in Game 7 and had three points in Game 5.
"It'll be a good challenge for him if [the Rangers] check him tighter," Trotz said. "In the first series, trust me, they were checking him pretty tight and he was able to get through it. I don't see any reason why he's not capable of doing it in the next series."