The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals take their last trip to New York this season to take on the New York Rangers in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series holding a 3-2 lead in games and with a chance to close out the series.
It has been a long time since the Caps closed out a playoff series in six games, but that is their task for Sunday evening. The last time the Caps turned the trick was in 1998 when they did it twice, beating the Boston Bruins in Boston on an overtime goal by Brian Bellows, and again when they beat the Buffalo Sabres on an overtime goal by Joé Juneau to send the Caps to their first and, to date, only trip to the Stanley Cup finals. If coincidences are your thing, both of those wins were earned on the road.
If you are looking at games of more recent vintage, in this era of Caps playoff teams (2008-to-present) the Caps are 4-2 in Game 6’s. In the two games in which they could have closed out a series with a win in Game six and did not, the Caps are 1-1 in the ensuing Game 7’s, losing to Montreal in 2010 after losing Game 6 in Montreal, and beating Boston in Game 7 in Boston after losing Game 6 at home to the Bruins.
This Game 6 will be the 25th post-season game played between these two teams since 2009. The Caps currently have a 14-10 win-loss record over that span of games against the Rangers. Some things to think about from that history…
-- For the Caps, the guys you would expect to be the big scorers are just that. Alex Ovechkin is 11-8-19 in 24 games, Mike Green is 4-12-16, and Nicklas Backstrom is 2-13-15. If there is one player missing whose production might have been helpful, well, that is where Alexander Semin comes in. He was 8-5-13 in 19 games against the Rangers in this post-season history.
-- For the Rangers, one is struck by the turnover in players. Only five skaters from the 2011 club that lost to the Caps in five games have appeared in this series – Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello. Marc Staal, who was also on that squad, has not yet appeared in this series. Of that group of six players, only Staal recorded a point in the 2011 series, an assist.
-- The situation is reversed in goal. The Rangers have known only one goaltender to earn a decision in this series. Henrik Lundqvist is 10-14 against the Caps since 2009 with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage with one shutout. You would have to go back to 2009 to find another goaltender who appeared for the Rangers, that being Steve Valiquette, who saw 40 minutes of action over two games.
-- Then there are the Caps. Washington has employed four different goaltenders in this series since 2009
- Jose Theodore: 0-1, 4.07, .810
- Semyon Varlamov: 4-2, 1.17, .952, 2 shutouts
- Michal Neuvirth, 4-1, 1.37, .946, 1 shutout
- Braden Holtby, 6-6, 1.91, .931, 1 shutout
Where are we going with this? We are thinking this game is going to turn on the battle between familiar foes – Henrik Lundqvist against Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green. Lundqvist has not been exactly leak-free in New York, either in this series (2-0, 3.00, .902) or in the series since 2009 (7-4, 2.59, .910). What Lundqvist does have, though, is four straight wins against the Caps on home ice in the playoffs.
On the other hand, the Caps are going to have to get more out of their Big Three as a group. Mike Green had a point in each of the first four games of the series (2-2-4), but was held off the scoreboard in Game 4. He is 2-3-5 in 11 playoff games at Madison Square Garden since 2009. Nicklas Backstrom has a goal in two games at MSG in this series, and he is 1-6-7 in 11 playoff games there since 2009, half of his assists coming in his first playoff game there in 2009. Alex Ovechkin does not have a point in either game in New York in this series and has not scored a playoff goal in the Garden since getting the game-winner in Game 2 of last spring’s series against the Rangers. Overall he is 4-4-8 in 11 games on Ranger ice since 2009.
Ultimately, that battle between old foes could turn on the power play. The team scoring a power play goal has won each game of the series this year. This is where the Caps have some work to do. In 11 games at Madison Square Garden in the playoffs since 2009 the Caps are 7-for-38 with the man advantage (18.4 percent). However, they are only 3-for-24 in their last eight games there (12.5 percent).
When the series started we wrote…
“This will be a hard-fought series, as have the three been that preceded it. But while this will be no five-game romp for the Caps as it was in 2011, neither will it be the seven-game series that sandwiched that 2011 series… Capitals in six.”
It has been a hard-fought series, and we have seen nothing to change our minds about the outcome. This game will be in the hands of the stars for each team, and it will be the guys in white who will do the celebrating.
Capitals 3 – Rangers 2