Previewing the Rangers and Capitals 1st Round Matchup

For the first time since Derek Stepan's overtime Game 7 winner in the 2015 2nd round, a pivotal Metro Division rivalry will go down in just the 1st round of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs
Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game Seven
Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game Seven / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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Retired NHL on NBC broadcaster Mike Emrick summed up one 2nd round 2015 playoff matchup in just one sentence.

"Drive by Girardi! The save, rebound- SCORE!!! Stepan! In overtime! The Rangers move on to Tampa!"

Now, nearly 10 years later, the Rangers and Capitals meet again in the postseason, this time in the 1st round, with the Rangers fresh off a President's Trophy win this season and Washington squeaking into these playoffs by beating out the likes of Philadelphia, Detroit, and Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference postseason berth. It may not be as flashy as some of the other first round matchups this year, but it's one to watch for any persistent diehard Blueshirts fan as they try to cap off an incredible campaign with the most points in all 82 regular season games in their 97th NHL season. But what sets these two teams apart and gives either one of them the edge?

Rangers Advantage: Goal Differential

The Rangers are 7th overall in the league in goal differential, with a +53 rating. For those who don't quite know what that is, goal differential is the difference between how many goals a team has scored vs how many they have allowed. For the Rangers, that +53 means they have scored a total of 278 goals this season and have allowed 226 total. That's about as good as you can get, so it may surprise some that it's still only 7th best in the whole league. Washington, on the other hand, is one of the worst goal differential teams in 30 years to still clinch a playoff spot, with a -37 rating.

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That means they scored 216 goals for and allowed 278. That's bad. Very bad. For the record, the next worst team is the Islanders, who have a -18 goal differential rating. This puts Washington well below typical performance for playoff teams, and remember, they barely got in thanks to the struggles of other Eastern Conference stalwarts.

Capitals Advantage: Some Key Offensive Players

The only saving grace for the Caps in this best of 7 may be the talents of Alex Ovechkin, goaltender Charlie Lindgren, and Dylan Strome. It is definitely Washington's best offensive lineup, but there's a problem- it just isn't enough when you factor in the Rangers' own offensive talents of Artemi Panarin, former Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin, and an undeniably talented defensive core. The offense isn't the only thing lacking for the Caps, though. Their power play is mid-league ranked at best, and up against one of the league's top penalty kills, that will also not go well. Washington itself isn't much better at killing their own penalties either, ranking 18th while being 17th on the man advantage, while the Rangers are 3rd in both those stats. That's right- both 3rd in the 32-team league in scoring on penalized teams and getting rid of penalties on themselves. That's not an easy thing to do.

If I were to predict this matchup, which begins in just 3 days time, I'd say the Rangers would easily be moving on in possibly 4 games, sweeping aside the Caps. In other scenarios, it could be 5 games, a 4-1 Rangers series win, given these two teams split the 4 game season series at 2 games apiece, New York winning both their games at MSG and the Caps at Capital One Arena. But in short, this may be just a slight cakewalk for the Rangers in their quest for the Cup. It's not a complete one, but it might as well be.