Caps winning with pack mentality

Caps winning with pack mentality
April 27, 2012, 7:33 pm
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On the same page.

Its one of the most overused clichs in sports and one that has made its way around the Capitals locker room the past three weeks.

What does it mean to a team that has made it to the second round of the playoffs for the third time in four years but has yet to go any further?

Maybe in the past we were on our own programs and this year were all on the same page, Capitals defenseman Mike Green said before catching a team flight to New York for Saturdays series opener against the Rangers (NBC, 3 p.m.). We all play the same and we utilize the system in place.

Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom says thats the difference between these Capitals and the team that knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs in five games last spring, only to be swept from the second round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Capitals are still alive because they managed to beat the Boston Bruins four times without Alex Ovechkin scoring a goal in those wins. Twelve different Capitals scored in that series, including Game 7 contributions from Matt Hendricks and Joel Ward.

Everybodys important every game, Backstrom said. It doesnt matter who scores the goals. We know its going to be tough to score goals against the Rangers. We need to step up and we want to step up. It doesnt matter if youre on the first or the fourth line.

The reason, Green says, is coach Dale Hunter.

He hasnt strayed away from his game plan since Game 1, Hunter said, and you have to respect that.

In the Rangers, the Capitals are facing a team very much like themselves. The Rangers survived their first-round, seven-game series with Ottawa by outscoring the Senators 14-13. The Caps outlasted the Bruins in seven games by a 16-15 count

The Rangers led all NHL playoff teams with 159 blocked shots; the Caps were second with 139. The Caps were fifth in hits with 234; the Rangers were sixth with 228.

I think its going to be two teams out there just blocking shots, Backstrom said. And he wasnt smiling.

Hunter said the Rangers do such a good job of blocking shots he might advise his players to intentionally shoot the puck 10 feet wide of the net and look for caroms off the boards. And he was serious, too.

Its going to be a hard series for both teams, Ovechkin said. I hope theres going to be more space than against Boston.

Ovechkin said hes happy to get away from Bruins hard-hitting defensemen Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9, 255 pounds) and Dennis Seidenberg (6-foot-1, 210 pounds). Against the Rangers hes likely to go up against the top defensive pair of Dan Girardi (6-foot-1, 206 pounds) and Ryan McDonagh (6-foot-1, 216 pounds).

The Caps will also have to deal with Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, who missed last years playoffs with a broken ankle after blocking a shot by Chara. And theyll need to try to slow Brad Richards, who signed with the Rangers over the summer and led them in scoring in the first round with two goals and three assists.

But when asked about what comes to his mind when the words New York Rangers are mentioned, Ovechkin said very little about the teams personnel.

Next opportunity to move forward, he said. We know how they play and they know how we play.