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NHL playoffs: Keys for a Rangers’ first-round victory

Blueshirts seek first playoff series win since 2008, while the top-seeded Capitals hope to avoid another early exit.

1 Knock around the Caps’ top line

The play of top defensive pair Dan Girardi and Marc Staal helped the Rangers win three of four regular season games against the Capitals by limiting the first line of Mike Knuble, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. The Washington trio was held to a goal, two assists, three points and was minus-five overall. Staal and Girardi combined for a goal, three assists, five points and were plus-five with four hits.

2 Keep killing the dreaded power plays

Success in the post-lockout NHL is no secret. It’s predicated on special teams play.

Both of these teams were strong on the penalty kill during the regular season. The Capitals tied for second with an 85.6 percent PK rate. The Rangers’ 83.7 percent was tied for eighth in the NHL, and their 11 shorthanded goals tied for third most. Both teams were in the middle of the pack with the man-advantage. The Rangers connected for goals at a 16.9 percent clip, which ranked 18th. For all of the Capitals’ skill and high octane offense, Washington only finished 16th in the NHL with a 17.5 success rate on the power play.

3 King Henrik shall lead them

Henrik Lundqvist is a Vezina and Hart candidate after authoring a 2010-11 season that saw him finish with a 36-27-5 record, .923 save percentage, 2.28 goals against average and a NHL-best 11 shutouts.

Washington’s No. 1 is Michael Neuvirth. The 23-year-old compiled a 27-12-4 mark, .914 save percentage and 2.45 goals against average. Not only does he lack experience but doesn’t have that high-flying offense we’re used to seeing out of the Caps.

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