Capitals vs. Rangers: New York, Washington ready for another playoff battle
(AP/ABC) - If, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt, then the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers have a whole lot of bitterness inside them.
Four playoff encounters in five seasons will do that to a pair of longtime rivals.
Yet, as Thursday's Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals between the Capitals and Rangers approaches, the way last season's series ended gives Washington added incentive for payback.
Last year's semifinal series, which went to the Rangers in 7 games, was the culmination of a hard-fought, contentious series that likely could have gone either way.
There was the epic Game 3 that finally ended after 54:41 worth of overtime, sealed when Marion Gaborik sealed a 2-1, triple overtime victory for the Blueshirts. Five days later, the Capitals seemed primed for a massive Game 5 victory and a 3-2 series lead, before Joel Ward's infamous double-minor.
As if that was the only time the teams battled. In 2009, Donald Brashear broke an orbital bone in Blair Betts' face, then Sergei Fedorov broke the Rangers hearts with a late Game 7 goal. Two years later, they'd meet again, this time in a decidedly one-sided Capitals Round 1 victory.
And it all starts again on Thursday, when the Rangers visit Washington for Game 1 of this year's meeting.
For Washington, Alexander Ovechkin fueled the Capitals' late-season surge to their fifth Southeast Division title in six years by leading the NHL with 32 goals.
Ovechkin scored an NHL-record 14 goals in April and became the first three-time winner of the Richard Trophy in the 13 years the award has been given to the season leader in goals.
His surge helped Washington to go 17-4-2 in its final 23 games - including 11-1-1 in April - to move from 14th in the East to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. The late charge means Washington is in the playoffs for the sixth straight season. It is the Capitals' longest postseason stretch since a 14-season run from 1983-96.
Just up Interstate 95, the Rangers entered the shortened 2013 season with sky-high expectations. However, a slow start and late playoff push meant New York entered the final day of the regular season with the possibility of finishing anywhere between sixth and eighth in the East.
A 4-0 win over New Jersey, coupled with a loss by Ottawa, moved the Rangers to sixth and into another meeting with Washington.
The Rangers secured their spot by going 10-3-1 in April, and by scoring an NHL-best 3.6 goals per game since the April 3 trade deadline. The key for the Rangers though, as always, will be goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has allowed two goals or fewer in 16 of the past 20 games - going 13-5-2. He tied for the NHL lead with 24 wins with a stellar 2.05 goals-against average.
Meanwhile, Rick Nash, the high-priced free agent that was brought in to be seemingly the final piece of a Stanley Cup puzzle, broke out of a scoring slump with two goals in the finale to reach 20 for the ninth straight season.