The New York Rangers (28-19-3) limp -- literally -- into Washington, D.C., to take on the Capitals (27-14-8) coming off of one of their gutsiest performances of the year Saturday against the Atlanta Thrashers. Having eventually mustered a shootout victory with a third-period comeback in a game that saw them play over a period minus two skaters, as Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust both left the game injured, is truly a representation of this team's never-quit mentality. The Blueshirts are also 16-9-1 on the road this year.
The Capitals come into this game winners of three of their past four games, all of which were against lower-tier Eastern opponents. Prior to this stretch they had lost three straight -- and in fact, their last win against a team currently in playoff position came against the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year's (though they did have two overtime losses to the Lightning and Flyers).
The Caps hope, though, that the Alex Ovechkin's hat trick in the previous game jumpstarts the world-class scorer, who has 19 goals and 32 assists on the season. Alexander Semin (18 goals), Nicklas Backstrom (12 goals) and Mike Knuble are the only other players with more than 10 goals on the season for the Caps.
With so much talent on the offensive end for Washington, it would behoove the Rangers to play one of their grinding/hitting style games, while keeping their defense a priority. Despite sustaining a rib muscle injury during a fight in the last game, Girardi participated in the morning skate -- but John Tortorella said he has been ruled out. New York has promoted Michael Del Zotto. The Rangers have also recalled 20-year-old Evgeny Grachev from the Connecticut Whale, in case Brandon Prust (ankle) can't play. Prust's grinding, high-motor style would also be a key loss, but it seems that he is good to go; he did not participate in the morning skate to rest himself for tonight. Grachev or Brodie Dupont will sit if Prust plays.
The last game between these two teams the Rangers won 7-0, but the Caps have dominated the Blueshirts in their last 12 meetings, with a 9-2-1 record.
The Rangers will undoubtedly rely heavily on the impressive Woljek Wolski-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello line to produce offense and they'd certainly be happy to see Marian Gaborik (no goals since his four-goal outburst on Jan. 19) chip in with some goals. Sean Avery is coming off a well-earned season-high in ice time and he's seen much more 5-on-5 play in the past three games with the Rangers facing so many injuries. An engaged Avery is always an asset and lately he's been just that. Expect John Tortorella to roll four lines early and scale it back as the game progresses, depending on the situation.
. He'll have to be big in net -- but certainly the Rangers' feisty play will be crucial in this one.