The top seeded Washington Capitals are the first Eastern Conference team to advance, moving into the semifinals after defeating the New York rangers in five games.
While previewing the East, I had this to say about the Capitals-Rangers series:
The deciding factor is the Rangers’ offense; if New York’s top talent shows up, Washington could be in trouble. Still, Washington has been built to succeed in the playoffs this season, and they have the slight edge over an inconsistent Rangers squad.
Washington in 7
Though this series was over in only five games, it was a very evenly matched series between these two clubs. The Capitals won both games that went into overtime to take a commanding lead and were able to close the series out in front of their home crowd.
What Happened To New York?
It's very simple. The Rangers' top offensive talent failed to show up in this series. Young forward Brandon Dubinsky was the member of the Rangers to score two goals. Marian Gaborik? One goal and one assist. Midseason acquisition Wojtek Wolski? One goal, two assists. The Rangers as a team only scored eight total goals in five games, not nearly enough to win any playoff series and especially not enough to defeat the top overall seed.
Furthermore, their two advantages heading into the series -- goaltending and top defensive pairings -- were completely neutralized by Washington. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist played well, but was completely matched by the Capitals' rookie goaltender, Michael Neuvirth.
What Did We Learn About Washington?
This is not the Capitals' team that blew a 3-1 series lead last season against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. This team has been reinvented and rebuilt to win playoff series. The midseason trade for Scott Hannan has helped solidify their blue line presence, leading the entire team by averaging over 25 minutes a game on the ice. They no longer have to depend on their offensive talent to win playoff games; instead, they are comfortable in low scoring games. When it becomes crunch time, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin can take over.
The revelation has been the play of Neuvirth in goal. Neuvirth played like a veteran in his first ever playoff start, matching Lundqvist game for game. A .946 SV% and 1.38 GAA after his first five playoff games? There's always one new goalie that makes his presence known with a breakout performance. Last year was Jaroslav Halak for Montreal, this year it appears to be Neuvirth. He doesn't have to carry his team this year, but his performance has certainly established the Capitals as a Cup favorite once again.
The Capitals are flexible enough to match up with any team in the East. Their new defensive mentality and solid goaltending gives them an edge in any playoff series, and the early series victory will ensure they are well rested at the start of their next series.