Capitals-Rangers playoff matchup provides a new twist on the rivalry

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Playoff rematch won't be more of the same

They meet for the fourth time in five seasons in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But things are not quite as familiar as they seem when the Capitals face the New York Rangers in an Eastern Conference first round series this week.

The stars are still here, of course. Alex Ovechkin regained his crown as the NHL's top goal scorer. Henrik Lundqvist still plies his trade in net for New York. Familiar names like blueliners Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh again have the challenge of slowing Ovechkin. Longtime Rangers enemies like forward Jason Chimera and defenseman John Carlson hope to again work their magic for Washington at Madison Square Garden this spring.

"They're a good hockey team. You have to respect them," Caps coach Adam Oates said. "They have a really good goalie. They kind of play from him first. And they play an aggressive, pressure-type game. They're involved in every single game. That's part of what they do. It's nothing we haven't seen."

But nothing is static in professional sports. New York traded key role players Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov to Columbus last summer to land star winger Rick Nash, among the game's great wingers. He adds an element the Rangers have often missed in recent years -- a player who can single-handedly take over a series. Nash's history against the Caps is scary (seven goals and eight assists in 12 games).

Even after the Nash deal, New York jettisoned top offensive forward Marian Gaborik in a trade last month with the Blue Jackets that added forwards Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and defenseman John Moore. They also traded for San Jose forward Ryane Clowe. But while there are new faces, the Rangers' style has only been tweaked by head coach John Tortorella, not scrapped.

"Very disciplined, very structured. They don't get themselves in trouble very often," Washington forward Troy Brouwer said. "They collapse down low in their D-zone, block a lot of shots. There's not a whole lot of room on the ice. And on the other side of that they have a lot of quick forwards that can make plays."

Meanwhile, only eight Caps players remain from the first postseason series between these two teams in 2009 -- Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, John Erskine, Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti. The latter two defensemen have been healthy scratches for weeks and Laich is likely out for the series after sports hernia surgery in mid-April.

Plus, with Oates in as coach in place of Dale Hunter, Washington's style of play has gone from ultra-conservative to a far more balanced approach. You won't see players like Jay Beagle getting more minutes than Ovechkin late in games this time.

"It will throw another look at [New York], for sure," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "The games are a lot different than they were last year. But like we've said, we don't care too much about the other team. We're happy with what we're doing."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner