Our NHL consultant breaks down the Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff series between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Take the time to read this insightful betting preview article.
NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals
Washington Capitals (49-40) vs. New York Rangers (57-30)
Two Metropolitan Division rivals are set to begin a second round playoff series starting on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York when the Rangers and Capitals square off. The Rangers advanced by eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games during the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Washington Capitals survived a grueling seven games series versus the New York Islanders in order to move on. According to the NHL betting odds at Olympic, The Rangers are a -180 money line favorite to win the series.
Recent Playoff History between these Teams
This will be the fifth time that these teams have met in the playoffs since 2009. No other teams have met more during the postseason during that time span. In the 2012 and 2013 playoffs both series went a full seven games, and the Rangers came out on top each time.
The New York Rangers eliminated Pittsburgh in their previous series last Friday, and will be playing on six days of rest entering Thursday’s Game 1. Contrarily, the Capitals are coming off a Game 7 win over the Islanders on Monday, and will be afforded just two days of rest before resuming play. You don’t need a PHD in mathematics to understand the Rangers will have a huge edges in terms of rest in addition to wear and tear.
The Capitals Braden Holtby was terrific in their series win over the Islanders, posting an outstanding .943 save percentage in six starts. Holtby has been an absolute workhorse for the Capitals this season, and Thursday will mark his 79th start of the season which is quite a hefty number by modern day standards. He was 1-3 versus the Rangers during the regular season with a less than impressive .897 save percentage.
The Rangers Henrik Lundqvist is one of the premier goaltenders in the world. He started all five games in the Penguins series, compiled a superb .939 save percentage, and allowed exactly one goal in four of those five outings. Lundquist was 2-0 versus the Capitals during the regular season with a stellar .929 save percentage. With all due respect to Braden Holtby, he’s not in the same elite class as Henrik Lundquist.
The Washington Capitals had the top ranked power play in the NHL during the 2014-2015 NHL regular season campaign. However, the Islanders allowed them just 13 power play opportunities during their seven game series which is an average of less than two per game. That was well below their season average of 3.1 attempts per game. They were just 2-for-13 (15.4%) with their power play chances versus the Islanders, and that was also much below their season average of converting 24.8% of the time.
My descriptions of the Rangers power play this season is not great, far from horrible, and altogether solid. They certainly did a good job in drawing penalties in their series versus Pittsburgh by averaging four power plays per game. However, they were a less than impressive 3-for-20 (15%) with the man advantage. Their penalty killing in the regular season and playoffs is much of the same. They’ve killed off a very respectable 84.3% of opponent’s power play chances on the year.
I’ve made reference in prior articles here at SBR to my NHL special teams efficiency ratings. Pertaining to this matchup, my numbers show Washington to have an edge in this department. I have the Capitals with a rating of 106.9 compared to 101.0 for the Rangers. In my opinion, if Washington is to upset the Rangers, or even make this a long series, this is an area in which they must excel.
Barry Trotz is in his first year as head coach of the Washington Capitals. He spent the previous fifteen seasons as the only head coach in Nashville Predators franchise history. His teams have made the playoffs in eight of his sixteen seasons behind the bench, and none of those clubs ever advanced beyond the second round.
Alain Vigneault is in his second season as the New York Rangers head coach. It’s been quite a successful tenure thus far. The Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014 where they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in five games. This year’s Rangers won the President’s Trophy for finishing with the most points in the entire NHL during the regular season. Vigneault also spent parts of four seasons as the head man in Montreal, and held the same title with the Vancouver Canucks for seven years. His Canucks reached the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals where they lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins.
Braden Holtby needs to stand on his head in this series if the Capitals have any realistic chance. Even then, it may not be good enough to pull off the series upset. The Rangers are too deep, have a proven world class goaltender, and have few if any flaws so back them with your NHL picks.
NHL Pick: Rangers +324 to win the series in either four or five games.