Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers open playoffs against a familiar foe in surging Capitals

The New York Rangers were the first team to clinch a playoff spot and finished with the NHL’s best record to earn the Presidents’ Trophy. The Washington Capitals were the last team to get in the postseason after winning their final game of the season.

Now, the Metropolitan Division foes meet in the first round for their first Stanley Cup playoff matchup in nine years.

New York coach Peter Laviolette is familiar with the Capitals as he spent three years in Washington before parting ways last summer and joining the Rangers. However, he downplayed the significance as the teams split their four meetings this season, in which the home team won each time and both teams totaled nine goals.

“That goes both ways,” he said. “They also have an insight to me and systems. ... You got to go out on the ice and the team that can figure out their game and play it the best can find success.”

Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers, seeking their first title in 30 years, are tied with Colorado and Edmonton for the fourth-best odds to win the Stanley Cup, according to Bet MGM Sportsbook, and the Capitals — who finished with a minus-37 scoring differential for the worst of any playoff team since 1991 — have the lowest.

“Everybody’s going to say we’ve got no business being here and the goal differential, blah, blah, blah,” Washington coach Spencer Carbery said. “I know this group isn’t just going to be content showing up in the Stanley Cup playoffs. We want to go and put our best foot forward and show what we’re capable of doing as a group.”

New York lost consecutive games just once until early January. After dropping eight of 12 later in the month, the Rangers won 10 straight and never looked back. The Rangers led the league in comeback wins (28) and were tied with playoff outsider Detroit for the most third-period comebacks (14).

“A pretty resilient group,” defenseman Adam Fox said. “It’s been a full team effort. When we needed goaltending, we got it. We needed depth scoring, we got it. When we needed our top guys to step up. It’s kind of been everyone chipping in.”

The Capitals, who have only four players remaining from the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2018, were sellers at the trade deadline. However, they got steady goaltending from Charlie Lindgren after he took aver as the starter, and they won four of the last five to beat out Detroit for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Now, the Capitals only need to look back to last year for inspiration as the Florida Panthers beat Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston in the first round and went on a run to the Stanley Cup Final.

“We all understand how we have to play,” Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin said. “We’re just going to play it game by game and see what happens.”


The Rangers were seventh in scoring at 3.39 goals per game, led by Artemi Panarin's MVP-caliber season with 49 goals and 71 assists. Chris Kreider (39 goals, 36 assists), Mika Zibanejad (26 goals, 46 assists), Vincent Trocheck (25 goals, 52 assists) and Fox (17 goals, 56 assists) gave the team five players topping 70 points — tied with Tampa Bay for most in the NHL.

Ovechkin finished with 31 goals — including 23 over his last 36 games — to pull 41 behind Wayne Gretzky (894) for the NHL career record. The Russian forward is in the playoffs for the 15th time in his career after a one-year gap when the Capitals missed last season. He is tied for 15th in all-time playoff goals (72), one behind Joe Pavelski and Dino Ciccarelli and three behind Mario Lemieux.


Igor Shesterkin (36-17-2, 2.58 goals-against average, 4 SOs) endured a rough stretch in which he lost six of 12 starts around the middle of the season, but rebounded to go 10-4-0 with a 2.34 GAA and three shutouts over his last 14 starts. Jonathan Quick (18-6-2, 2.62 GAA, 2 SOs) was a solid backup, and the 38-year-old was 9-2-0 with a 2.84 GAA over his last 11 starts.

Lindgren finished 25-16-7 with a 2.67 GAA and six shutouts while making a career-high 48 starts — reaching double digits for only the third time in eight seasons and nearly doubling his previous high a year ago.


New York was third in the league on both the power play (26.4%) and penalty-kill (84.5%) — only Carolina was better in both. The Rangers were 7 for 23 on the PP and 22 for 23 on the PK over their last eight games.

Washington was 18th with the man advantage — finishing ahead of only the New York Islanders and Vegas among the playoff teams — and 19th on penalty-killing (79%).


The Rangers have won five of the nine playoff matchups against the Capitals, including the last three — 2015 second round, 2013 first round, 2012 second round. In 2015, the Rangers came back from a 3-1 series deficit to advance to their second straight conference finals. Four of the teams’ last five postseason meetings went to a Game 7.


AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.



Vin A. Cherwoo, The Associated Press