Saturday, May 12, 2012
W2W4: Rangers vs. Caps
By Katie Strang
At a glance: The Rangers and the Capitals square off in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden Saturday both looking to punch their tickets to the Eastern Conference finals. New York has squandered multiple opportunities to put Washington away, and the seventh-seeded Capitals seem steeled to continue their surprising run. Can star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist lead the Blueshirts to their first conference final appearance in 15 years? Or will Washington’s big guns – Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom – shine under the bright lights of Broadway and pull off another series upset?
Uphill battle: According to ESPN Stats & Info, no team since 1987 (when the playoffs went to a seven-game format) that has been extended to seven games in each of the first two rounds has gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Both the Rangers and Capitals will play their 14th games Saturday.
New arrival: Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby, 22, doesn’t seem to crumble under pressure, but he faces his biggest challenge yet. He and his fiancée, Brandi, welcomed the birth of their first child Thursday, just two days before the biggest game of his life.
Rookie response: Promoted to the team’s second line with center Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan in practice Friday, rookie Chris Kreider hopes to respond after being dropped to the team’s fourth line after a couple of gaffes in Game 4 last week. Kreider has been limited to 6:57 and 6:06 and in Games 5 and 6, respectively.
Date with Devils: After disposing of the Philadelphia Flyers in five games, the New Jersey Devils have been patiently awaiting their conference finals opponents. Is another Hudson River clash in store? The Devils have faced the Rangers twice since the lockout -- they lost to New York in 5 games during the 2008 quarterfinals and swept them in the first round two years earlier.
Offense needed: Besides the ailing power play, which went 0-for-5 on Wednesday in D.C. the Rangers could use a boost in even-strength goal production as well. The team has scored only one true 5-on-5 goal in the past two games and their offense ranks last among the five teams still standing in the playoffs.
Out of boot: Injured forward Brandon Dubinsky (right foot) shed his walking boot and looked to be making progress, although he politely declined to discuss his timeline. Given the time missed -- he has not resumed skating -- it appears unlikely he would be available at any point during the Eastern Conference finals should the Rangers advance.
Beagle questionable: Center Jay Beagle, who missed Game 6 with a lower-body injury, is a game-time decision, according to Caps coach Dale Hunter. Should Beagle be unavailable, veteran pivot Jeff Halpern will replace him in the lineup for the second straight game.