For the fourth time in five years the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals will face off in a playoff series.
This time around, Alex Ovechkin and the Caps are looking to avenge last year's seven-game series loss, while the Blueshirts look to make good on its promising talent.
The Capitals' season started out as ugly as it gets, posting a 2-8-1 mark in the early going. Some doubted if this team would pull it together in time to make the playoffs in this shortened 48 game season. Ovechkin was written off by the analysts, saying he was washed up and a middle-of-the-pack player. I'm looking at you Barry Melrose.
So how did the Great 8 respond?
Ovechkin vs. Nash
Ovechkin went on a tear down the stretch, lighting up opposing lamp posts and leading the league in goals with 32 to go along with 24 assists. Center Mike Ribeiro has provided the team with a stable presence on the power play, putting up 49 points with 36 assists on the year, while leading the leagues best power play unit at 26.8 percent.
The Rangers underachieved this year, at least on paper, though won enough down the stretch, 9-3-1, to earn the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
New York won't have perennial top scorer Marian Gaborik, who was traded to Columbus just before last month's trade deadline. The offense will rest on the shoulders of winger Rick Nash, who led the team with 21 goals this year.
The Rangers can come at you from all directions. Any roster that boasts the likes of Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan has a chance to post big numbers on any given night.
Holtby vs. Lundqvist
As usual, the goaltending play will be pivotal in this first-round matchup. Capitals netminder Braden Holtby has been solid in net, going 23-12-1 with a 2.58 goals against average and .920 save percentage, while Henrik Lundqvist has been his usual dominate self posting a 24-16-3 record with a 2.05 goals against average and .926 save percentage.
Who steps up?
The return of Joel Ward could prove big for the Capitals while they will need big time efforts from Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer this go around with the Rangers. This series is a lot less predictable than the previous matchups of these clubs and could go either way. This series could wind up being a sweep for either team, or could go the distance, with either team winning. In his seventh season, this is Ovechkin's time to dominate. After failing to lead his team to a Game seven victory against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden last year, expect the Great 8 to come out on fire Thursday night in The District in front of a raucous crowd.
The winner of game one will go on to win the series. Let's hope it goes to the boys in red. Capitals - 4 Rangers - 0