Capitals vs. Rangers: Semifinal rematch begins Thursday night

Bruce Bennett

The New York Rangers managed to defeat the Washington Capitals in seven games during last year's semifinal meeting. This year, the Capitals are vying for revenge.

The Washington Capitals began 2013 as one of the worst teams in the league. With first-year head coach Adam Oates attempting to implement a new system in an abbreviated training camp, results were not immediate for the Capitals. In addition, questions swirled about captain Alexander Ovechkin and his status as an elite player. However, by the end of the campaign, some wondered if Ovechkin could win the Hart Trophy.

Following a comprehensive turnaround, the club enters the quarterfinal round still being questioned --albeit by a familiar quandary-- of whether success in the regular season will translate to postseason glory.

The New York Rangers were picked by many to win the Stanley Cup. With the addition of Rick Nash, the club compiled a murderer's row of elite forwards with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. However, the team proved to be too top-heavy and Gaborik was ultimately moved at the trade deadline to bring in pieces to round out the roster.

With expectations tempered but still present, the Rangers will attempt to repeat their success in last year's semifinal victory over the Capitals.

During the season series, New York won two regulation games while Washington earned a victory via shootout. The Rangers outscored the Capitals, 8-5, while converting on 33.3 percent of power plays and killing off 90 percent of their penalties.

1. Will Derek Stepan continue his success against the Capitals?

The 22-year-old forward has recorded three goals in three games against Washington this season (one in each meeting). He acted as the Rangers' leading scorer against the Capitals this season. Will that carry over to Game 1?

2. How will Rick Nash perform in his first playoff game as a Ranger?

Nash has only played in four career NHL playoff games but record three points over that span (goal, two assists). On Thursday night, he will play in his fifth playoff game. Will he do anything to celebrate the appearance?

3. Will Washington improve on the power play?

The Capitals ended the regular season with the No. 1 ranked man advantage unit (26.8 percent success rate). Obviously, the Rangers didn't have much trouble with it. New York ended the regular season averaging 9.2 penalty minutes per game, which was tied for the league lead. In addition, the club took the fourth-most minor penalties over the course of the entire season (156). Will the Capitals find a way to exploit this?

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