The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway tonight. Here's what to watch for when the Rangers clash with the Capitals at 7:30 p.m. in D.C. Preview link
A Fast Start
This is a multi-stage note. If the Rangers can get out of the gates quickly with a goal or two, they can help rekindle some memories of past playoff nightmares for the Caps. Claim Game 1 in a lopsided manor and the Blueshirts can not only steal home-ice advantage from the East's top seed, but they can plant the seeds of doubt in a team and fan base that has experienced nothing but playoff disappointment since the franchise returned to prominence. It could also trigger a goalie controversy considering the Caps are still slightly torn on which netminder -- Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov -- should get the start. But even after the first goal the Rangers can't let up. The Caps own the league's best winning percentage when trailing after the first period at .489.
Green and Blue lines
Caps top D-man Mike Green is expected to dress for the first time since suffering a concussion against the Rangers on Feb. 25. Despite his high skill level, he's likely to be a little rusty as he tries to get back to game speed. Couple that with his turnover tendencies and the Rangers may be able to force a few giveaways if they can apply some pressure to him. On the other end of the ice, the Blueshirts blueliners aren't exactly drowning in playoff experience. This will be the first postseason for Matt Gilroy and rookies Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer. New York will certainly need them to play with the poise they've shown during the regular season to contain the Caps' multiple weapons.
Remember that handle? Chris Drury rekindled memories of it with his oh-so-timely goal to tie the score at 1 vs. the Devils in Game 82. How will he carry over that play to the postseason? It will be interesting to see if his ice time increases at all as the series progresses. I'd imagine that the Rangers would send him out a little more often in faceoff situations anyway. Drury is the team's best faceoff man and the Caps rate as a top-five team in the circle. The Rangers? 25th overall. In tight games where every draw (and ensuing shot) can make a difference, just winning a few key faceoffs may be Drury's biggest contribution, but it's one that should not be overlooked or undervalued.
<a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/players/profile?playerId=3705">Michal Neuvirth</a>