The Rangers open the playoffs tonight in Washington, and no one’s giving them much of a chance to actually win the series. (Of the 25 experts at ESPN, Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated, and Canada’s TSN, only TSN’s Maggie the Monkey — who is an actual zoo animal — picked the Rangers.) There’s a reason for this: They barely sneaked into the playoffs in the first place, have had trouble winning on the road, and are facing the team with the second-best offense in the conference. So why do they have at least a fighting chance? Three reasons after the jump — along with the one reason they probably really don’t.
1. The Rangers’ penalty kill could be the Caps’ kryptonite. If there’s any team that can stop the Capitals’ power play (the best in the Eastern Conference), it’s the Rangers, who have the best penalty kill in all of hockey. Washington’s Mike Green is the type of offensive defenseman Rangers fans have been dreaming of since Brian Leetch was traded, and Alexander Ovechkin is simply the best pure goal-scorer in the NHL. The Rangers defense, in general, probably won’t be able to stop the Caps’ offense — especially with Mark Staal, who will cover Ovechkin, not playing his best hockey of the year. But the penalty kill, in theory, should at least be able to slow it down.
2. The Rangers, by some margin, have the better goaltender. Washington may have the advantage at just about every other position, but if you’re going to have the edge in just one area, it better be at goalie. Henrik Lundqvist will have to steal games in this series, especially on the road, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’ll do so. For what it’s worth, Lundqvist outdueled Washington’s Jose Theodore in the playoffs once before — albeit in the Swedish Elite League during the NHL lockout.
3. The season record between the teams means nothing. Washington won three of the four meetings this season — including a devastating overtime win at the Garden in December in which the Rangers blew a 4–0 lead. But all of those games came before the Rangers made changes to their roster (adding Nik Antropov, Sean Avery, and Derek Morris) and before John Tortorella took over as coach, instituting a more aggressive offensive scheme.
Oh, and that one reason their chances really aren’t very good? To reiterate, the Caps have Alexander Ovechkin, and he can do this: