Rangers, Capitals try to keep strong recent play going
RANGERS (26-18-4) at CAPITALS (27-18-3)
TV: TSN, NBCSN, CSN-DC, MSG
Last 10: New York 7-3-0; Washington 8-1-1
Season series: The New York Rangers picked up five of a possible six points in the season series against the Washington Capitals. The Rangers won the first two games by a combined 6-2 and lost 3-2 in a shootout March 24 -- right around the time the Capitals started to make their push to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. New York won the lone game at Verizon Center 4-1 on March 10.
Big story: This is a true rivalry now -- the Capitals and Rangers will be meeting in the postseason for the fourth time in the past five years. The Rangers won in seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season. Washington needed five games to eliminate New York in the 2011 conference quarterfinals. The Capitals came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Rangers in seven games in the 2009 conference quarterfinals.
Rangers: New York went 10-3-1 in April to clinch a playoff berth. The Rangers' offense came around as they scored 51 goals (3.64 per game), while their defense remained stout, allowing 27 goals (1.92 per game).
Stepan finished April with 19 points in 14 games to earn the NHL's Third Star of the Month. It was the most productive month in his three-season career, topping the 15 points he put up in March.
Lundqvist started and finished all 14 games in April and posted a .934 save percentage and 1.76 goals-against average. It was his best month since January 2012.
The Rangers, though, might have to start the playoffs without Ryane Clowe (undisclosed injury) and Brian Boyle (knee). Neither player practiced in the days leading up to Game 1.
"Injuries are part of it," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We have people in spots that haven't been there, but it gives them an opportunity, so that's how we go about it. There's no sense in worrying about it, it's just finding people to make big plays in those situations and get big minutes in those situations to help your team win."
Capitals: As hot as the Rangers were in April, the Capitals were better. Washington went 11-1-1 and is 15-2-2 dating to March 21.
Alex Ovechkin had 20 goals and 32 points in the last 19 games of the regular season. Nicklas Backstrom had 24 points over the same span, and goalie Braden Holtby went 9-1-0 with a .937 save percentage and 2.16 goals-against average in April. He has a 1.77 GAA and .935 save percentage in 12 career games, including the postseason, against the Rangers.
Washington is dealing with some injuries as well. Joel Ward (bruised left knee) has been out since April 7, but will be back for Game 1 playing alongside Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle on the Capitals' fourth line. Earlier this week, coach Adam Oates said there was a good chance Ward would play as long as he can handle any lingering discomfort.
Brooks Laich (sports hernia surgery) is out and likely won't be back for this series.
Who's hot: Stepan has been leading the Rangers, but don't discount the play of Brad Richards, who had 16 points in April after totaling 18 points in the first two-and-a-half months of the season. Ryan Callahan had 16 points last month and Rick Nash had 14. … It's been all about Ovechkin for the Capitals, but Backstrom has produced, and Mike Green has 19 points in the past 19 games, including seven in the past four.
Injury report: For the Rangers, Clowe (undisclosed) and Boyle (knee) are doubtful. … Laich (sports hernia) is out for the Capitals.