Capitals aim to continue success vs. Rangers

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.

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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.”