The Rangers are 4-3 at home in the first two rounds of the playoffs against Ottawa and Washington, but it was on the familiar Garden ice that New York knocked out the Senators in Game 7 to set up the Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Capitals.
The Rangers know that a season in which they finished first in the East will have a hollow feeling if they don’t win Saturday and advance to face Atlantic Division-rival New Jersey in the conference finals.
The Rangers outlasted Ottawa 2-1 in the deciding game late last month, and they say they’re approaching this one the same way, with perhaps a few wrinkles.
Rangers coach John Tortorella had players who had been in previous Game 7s talk to the club before the final game of the first round. While one game doesn’t make someone a grizzled veteran of the greatest pressure on the biggest stage, it does give players an idea of what to expect.
Through six games, the seventh seeded Capitals and the Rangers have alternated wins and losses, and have been tied or within one goal 90 percent of the time. The club that has scored first has won every game, and since New York’s 3-1 victory in the opener, the next five games have been decided by one goal, including two that went to overtime.
It is hardly a stretch to figure that the Caps and Rangers will stage another nail-biter, one that might need extra time that could rival New York’s triple overtime win at Washington in Game 3.
The Rangers hold a 13-12 edge in goals, and both goalies are expected to be back on top of their games again. Henrik Lundqvist might have an advantage over Washington’s 22 year old youngster Braden Holtby, whose fiancee gave birth to a boy on Thursday.
The Capitals have been through this before, too, as they took out the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in Game 7 in Boston in the first round.
“We know what we have to do,’ Backstrom said. “If we can win in Boston, we can do it up at Madison (Square Garden), too. We’re looking forward to it.’
The Capitals will NOT have center Jay Beagle back for Game 7. He sat out Game 6 because of an injury and was replaced by Jeff Halpern, who dressed for his first postseason game of this year. Beagle was considered day to day on Friday, and Washington coach Dale Hunter didn’t seem concerned by the prospect of sending Halpern onto the ice again.
Rangers rookie Chris Kreider has had his share of ups and downs since making his NHL debut right after helping Boston College win an NCAA championship. He has two goals, both game winners, in his 11 games with New York and some mistakes that aren’t surprising for a rookie.
The 21 year old Kreider skated on the second line Friday with Callahan and young center Derek Stepan.
Washington Capitals – Braden Holtby
New York Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist
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