Rivals Rangers, Capitals set for a new battle

(Photo: Britt McHenry)

The distance between Washington and New York is minimal for the frequent traveler. So short, in fact, both the Capitals and Rangers just hop on an Acela when it's time to play each other.

Thanks to Brooks Laich and Joel Ward, the musical entertainment used to pass the time on these quick train rides has been well documented for avid social media users. However, while the trip is brief, the history between these two teams certainly is not.

Admittedly, when I heard the Caps would face the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, I asked my colleagues, "Again?" It will mark the fourth time in five years these franchises have met in the postseason.

While this may not have the same gravitas of the fierce rivalry Washington and the Pittsburgh Penguins share, the Rangers are now quite a familiar foe on the I-95 corridor.

"Since I've been here, this will be my third time playing them in the playoffs," Matt Hendricks said. "We've battled them hard. They're a good team, they're kind of a playoff hockey team in the sense that they do all the gritty things, all the things that make a great series."

So, before the Rangers hit Penn Station for their trip to D.C. for Thursday's Game 1, let's take a trip of our own down memory lane with the dramatic highlights of these two franchises in their never-ending quest for the Stanley Cup

Who can forget the 2009 playoffs? Rangers head coach John Tortorella is never one to mince words, or in this case, mince water bottles. I once witnessed Tortorella in a press conference field just one question and reply with a one word answer.

In this series, though, the hockey world witnessed Tortorella hurl a water bottle at a fan in Game 5 of this series. He then menacingly waved a hockey stick in the direction of the fan before security intervened. The NHL suspended Tortorella for Game 6, which Washington won.

Two days later, in a tight Game 7, Sergei Fedorov scored a dramatic goal with five minutes left to seal a 2-1 victory and a series win.

2010: The Montreal Canadiens. An 8 seed against the Capitals, who earned the league's top record. But in an instant, Montreal assistant coach Kirk Muller found a way to shut Alex Ovechkin down. The Caps lost in 7, and the hockey world began to grumble about whether or not Ovie and the Caps could win the big one.

2011: This Eastern Quarterfinal series was brief but memorable, especially when then Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau took the animosity to a new level. In a radio interview, Boudreau ripped Madison Square Garden and said that "its reputation is far better than the actual building."

"The locker rooms are horrible. The benches are horrible. There's no room for anything," Boudreau said. "But the reputation of being in Madison Square Garden is what makes it famous. Also, our building's a lot louder, too. So I mean, they can say what they want, but it's not that loud in there."

I'm not from New York City, but I appreciate its fan base. If there was one type of person I'd refrain from criticizing, it's a hard-nosed New Yorker. When I showed up to cover Game 4, I witnessed probably one of the most riveting moments of my career as the entire Garden started to chant, "Can you hear us?"

It was deafening, and as it turned out, quite possibly energy-draining for the Caps. They fell behind 3-0 after the one period, and the game seemed all but over.

Which brings me to the next rivalry-defining moment. Somehow, the Caps climbed back to tie the game at 3. It went to double overtime until, finally, Jason Chimera scored the game winner.

The radio call made the goal even more brilliant, as Chimera's winner was dubbed "the Miracle on 34th Street." Washington changed its playoff montage for Game 5 to include that spectacular finish, and it wasn't long before Verizon fans retaliated with "We are louder." If 2009 was the drama, consider 2011 the soundtrack.

This go-around, the Caps had plenty of their own drama. Boudreau was fired during the season, and Dale Hunter replaced him and installed a defensively-oriented system. As Alex Ovechkin joked Monday, he "learned how to block shots;" something he and the whole team bought in to.

Obviously, most will point to Game 7 of this Eastern Conference semifinals as New York's decisive victory. However, that series really came down to the final 30 seconds of Game 5.

Washington had a one goal advantage and could have returned to Verizon Center with a chance to close out the series. But Joel Ward's late double-minor for high sticking, Brad Richards tied it with 6.6 seconds left and Marc Staal won it less than two minutes into overtime.

The Caps took Game 6 at home, but New York closed the 7th-seeded Capitals out in the deciding game at MSG. The Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fell to New Jersey in six games.

2013: Another chapter in this story has yet to be written. But if the "I will step on you to win" shirt Alex Ovechkin wore Monday is any indication, prepare to put the pen to paper Thursday at 7:30 p.m.