Playoff hockey is back in the nation’s capital, and for the fifth time in six years, the Washington Capitals will face the New York Rangers in the postseason. Familiar like a rash that won’t go away and gritty like bad deli tuna, the Rangers roll into Verizon Center on Thursday night for Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. I hope they’re ready for a New York-style slice of first-round exit, extra sauce. Let’s get into it, starting with the key matchups of the series.
The Buddy System: Ovechkin-Backstrom vs. Nash-Stepan
Everybody needs a buddy, and like an eagle practicing scientology, every lethal winger has a tricky center behind him. In this Caps-Rangers matchup, the top Winger-Center pairings to watch are obvious: Alexander “Obestkin” Ovechkin with Nick “Quick Stick” Backstrom, and Rick “Trailer Trash” Nash with Derek “Dude Where’s My Puberty” Stepan.
If we judge this domestic partnership as a center creating assists that a winger converts into goals, this case is open and shut faster than that time you found your parents’ sex tape. You better duck, because I’m firing some ballistic statistics: Of the Centers in question, Nick Backstrom had 40 assists to Stepan’s 26. Both lead their teams in the category. In fact, the Capitals had nearly three players with more assists than Stepan – Ribeiro had 36 and Ovechkin had 24. Looking at the wingers, Ovechkin had a league-leading 32 potstickers to Nash’s team-high 21. Advantage: Soviet Apparatus that Never Falls Into Disrepair.
When we compare the Capitals’ and the Rangers’ top three goal scorers, a wild Fancy Stat appears! The Rangers’ triumvirate of Nash-Stepan-Callahan combined for 42% of the Rangers’ goals this season. The Caps’ top talliers Ovechkin, Brouwer, and Ribeiro accounted for 43% of the Capital’s goals. Both teams rely almost exactly as heavily on their top scorers. Shut them down, and you’ve disabled the Borg.
Prediction: The European duo of Backstrom and Ovechkin outduel the North American tandem of Nash and Stepan like so many math and science test scores.
Good to Goal: Holtby vs. Lundqvist
Both these teams will go exactly as far as their rugged, fair-maned stallions in net will carry them. Both the Capitals’ Braden Holtby and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist have a history of standing on their heads in the playoffs so long they get CTE. Both goaltenders have nearly identical stats this season: Lundqvist notched 24 wins with a .926 save percentage and a 2.05 GAA. Holtby recorded 23 wins, a .920 save percentage and a 2.58 GAA. Lundqvist has the edge, but not by much.
They are also both handsome as all hell.
Holtby has solidified himself as a starting NHL goalie this year, while Lundqvist only further proved himself as one of the best of the best. If the Caps can beat Lundqvist early on, and Holtby can keep easy pucks from squirting through like bronzer through the mesh of a Von Dutch trucker hat, this matchup will go to the good guys from DC.
Prediction: The Caps crack Lundqvist like a leaky Dutch dike.
After the jump, it’s time for everyone’s favorite segment: “Liable to Libel”
LIABLE TO LIBEL: A BAKER’S DOZEN LIES ABOUT THIS ROUND’S OPPONENT
- Rick Nash moonlights as a professional wrestler under his alter ego, Nick Rash.
- Girardi and Del Zotto were named for the pizzerias in which they were conceived.
- Madison Square Garden is so old and outdated that its locker rooms are lit by torch light and penalties are measured by two-minute sun dial.
- John Tortorella once frowned so hard that his beard ripped into two goatees.
- Journeyman goon Aaron Asham wasn’t mocking Jay Beagle like a classless sack of crap by pantomiming sleeping after knocking him out in his first NHL fight; he was saying he was tired of no team in the league wanting him.
- When the Staal brothers have Thanksgiving dinner, more talented brothers Eric and Jordan hold the best drumstick high above Marc’s head and tease, “Sorry, teammates only!”
- New York fans call their team the “Blue Shirts” because it reminds them who to root for.
- Henrik Lundqvist nicknamed his 5-hole “Broadway.”
- The Rangers are the most exciting team in New York…after the Knicks…and Nets…and Islanders…and Jets…and Giants…and Liberty…and Red Bulls…and the PS119 junior varsity swim team.
- The Rangers traded Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Derick Brassard and a calzone to be named later.
- Rangers fans hope this series ends in four games, because they fear they won’t be able to keep track of numbers much higher.
- The Rangers say they enjoy the lessened pressure of having so many other pro teams in the city, the same way that a middle child enjoys being loved less.
- 100% of proceeds from ticket sales at Rangers games go towards funding the most overrated team in the National Hockey League.
So that about does it. Playoff hockey is the best spectacle in sports, and there’s nothing better than watching the Caps play in May. I’ll have my remote control and my bottle of Captain ready for Thursday night. The puck drops at 7:30, and the Stanley Cup is just sixteen wins away. Let’s bring it back to F Street.