Capitals aim to continue success vs. Rangers - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Capitals aim to continue success vs. Rangers

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NY Rangers at Washington, Eastern Conference quarterfinal, Game One, 7:00 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As a coach with his playoff face on, Bruce

Boudreau naturally wants his Washington Capitals to disregard

the fact that they beat the New York Rangers three out of four

times this season.

In this case, it's more than just coach speak.

All four games came before February 23, when the Rangers fired

Tom Renney and replaced him with John Tortorella. They also came

before the March trade deadline, when New York added Nik

Antropov, Derek Morris and Sean Avery.

So, as the teams prepare to meet Wednesday in Game 1 of the

Eastern Conference playoffs, Boudreau is uttering more than a

cliche when he says: "It's like we're playing this team for the

first time."

"They made four significant changes - three players and a coach

- and probably a fifth change is that they really believe now,"

Boudreau said Tuesday.

"It's not the system that's changed, it's the mentality. You can

see a different hunger in their eyes. That may be strange to

hear, but you can watch two tapes at the end of Tom's run and

John's run now. That usually happens with a coaching change. I

don't know either man, how they coach, but reputation-wise it

looks like John's a little more fiery and gets 'em going."

A little more fiery? No one will dispute that about Tortorella,

whom some of the Capitals know well from his time with the

division rival Tampa Bay Lightning.

Even so, the Rangers were essentially a .500 team under the new

coach until winning their last three games - two against

Philadelphia and one against Montreal - to claim the No. 7 seed

in the East.

"Every game has meant something and we've enjoyed it," Rangers

defenseman Paul Mara said. "Getting three wins going into the

playoffs, with that momentum, gave us confidence. All around our

game is coming together and that's what you want going into the

first round."

Despite the change in attitude under Tortorella, the Rangers are

built to win the same way - led by their defense and goaltender

Henrik Lundqvist.

One pivotal matchup to watch will be the Rangers' penalty kill

unit - No. 1 in the league at 87.8 percent - go against

goal-scoring king Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals' power play -

which barely missed being No. 1 at 25.2 percent.

"They do a great job of blocking shots and have great

goaltending," Boudreau said. "Especially the first half of the

season. When you know you have to win the game 2-1, you'd better

be good on the penalty kill. They knew it and they did it."

Ovechkin's shadow for much of the game will be defenseman Marc

Staal. They are two physical players who know each other well.

"We've had our run-ins in the past. I don't know what it is,"

Staal said. "I think it's we're always in the same areas of the

ice, so when the puck comes, he hits hard and I don't want to

get knocked down, either.

"I think if you get physical with him, and also with guys like

(Alexander) Semin and (Nicklas) Backstrom, kind of get them

frustrated and off their game a little bit, as much as we can,

we have to do it. Maybe getting it in the back of his mind that

he's going to get hit every time he shoots it or comes down the

wing. That's what we want."

A newcomer to the Rangers-Capitals mix is Avery, the well-known

agitator who loves to get under an opponent's skin, especially

someone like Ovechkin.

"Just ignore him," Ovechkin said. "He likes to talk."

Of course, Ovechkin likes to talk as well. When the subject

turned to Lundqvist, Ovechkin's eyes lit up when asked if the

Rangers' goalie plays with oversized pads.

"Oh, yeah," Ovechkin said.

If that's so, maybe it's Lundqvist who's rattling the psyche of

the Russian superstar. Are his pads really too big?

"It's funny, I've heard that before," Lundqvist said. "There's

no way you can cheat because they measure it all the time.

Sometimes, it's the way you stand. I'm pretty happy he said I

have big equipment. I guess I look big."

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