As we move deeper in to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs some things are becoming clear whether we predicted them or not. It appears the Anaheim Ducks could quite possibly be the team to beat as their 3-0 shutout victory over the Calgary Flames last night pushed them to 6-0 in these playoffs and this team looks like a serious contender from top to bottom. What some might not have seen coming in is how good this Tampa Bay Lightning team is. Tampa got us a winner on Friday night with my NHL pick and followed that win up with a 6-2 blasting of the Canadiens again in Montreal last night. After coming back from a 3-2 series deficit in Round 1, the Lightning look as good as ever and they sure do have Carey Price’s number as all six goals last night were scored on the MVP candidate. Speaking of having someone’s number, it looks pretty clear that the Chicago Blackhawks have Minnesota’s number as they have staked themselves to a 2-0 series lead and continue to be the Wild’s worst nightmare in the postseason. The one series that looks as up for grabs as any right now is the Eastern Conference affair between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers as they are the lone game on the schedule tonight and also the only series that is not 2-0 after the first two games.
New York Rangers @ Washington Capitals
My Pick – CAPITALS (-110)
After the first two games of this series resulted in a split, the teams will switch gears to D.C. as the Capitals play host to the Rangers for tonight’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Washington stole a victory in Game 1 with a last-second goal while the Rangers evened the series on Sunday afternoon with a 3-2 victory. Now the Capitals get their crack to retain home ice advantage after stealing it in Game 1 and this team looks primed to do just that as their best players have indeed been their best players in this series. After scoring an absolute beauty goal in Game 2, Alex Ovechkin now has eight points in these playoffs and looks as dangerous as ever after struggling somewhat in recent postseason history. His eight points is the highest mark for any player in this series and it’s no surprise to see Nicklas Backstrom right behind him with seven of his own as these two are one of, if not the best 1-2 duo in the NHL. For some reason Backstrom continues to fly under the radar as one of the NHL’s best playmakers and he is a huge reason why Ovi lead the league with 25 powerplay goals in the regular season. Containing these two at the Verizon Center could prove to be a very difficult task for the Rangers as Washington has won their last three home games in the postseason. After dropping Game 1 at home to the Islanders, Washington went on outscore them 11-5 on home ice for the rest of the series and in their Game 7 victory they held New York to just 11 shots on goal. It has to be a welcomed sight for Capitals fans to see their team playing such great defensive hockey after relying on their offense to simply outscore their opponents in year’s past. The credit for this change has to be given to Barry Trotz as he displayed in his ten plus years in Nashville that he can implement defensive systems that work and clearly this one he has going in Washington is doing just that. It doesn’t appear to me that anyone on this Rangers team has stepped up and been their leader so far in these playoffs. Risk Nash seems to struggle to score in the postseason and this year is no different as he was one of the league’s top scorers in the regular season but has just one goal in seven games so far in these playoffs. Derek Brassard has four goals and that makes him the only player on the Rangers with more than two, so Nash is not the only blueshirt that is going through some struggles offensively. The goaltending in this series has been solid on both sides and not just in this series. Henrik Lundqvists’s goals against average sits at 1.67 in the postseason while Braden Holtby’s is just a few ticks higher at 1.72. No matter what the score, I believe the Capitals use their hometown faithful tonight to their advantage and deal the Rangers a Game 3 loss to take a 2-1 series edge.