Short-Staffed Rangers Battle NHL-Best Caps

The Rangers are in the Nation’s Capital tonight to face the Caps for the fourth and final time in the regular season.

The Blueshirts will take the league’s best road record of 27-10-2 into Verizon Center where the Capitals have the league’s best home record at 31-6-2.

The Capitals closed out a five-game road trip with a convincing 4-1 win in Toronto last night. Washington is a point away from clinching the President’s Trophy emblematic of the league’s best regular season record. Upon doing such, the Caps will have home ice-advantage throughout their playoff run.

The Rangers have not played since beating the Flyers, 4-3, on Sunday at The Garden to snap an eight-game winless slide at home. With the first wild-card spot in the East and a matchup with Montreal in the first round of the playoffs pretty much locked up, the Rangers will play without four regulars tonight. Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, Jesper Fast and Mats Zuccarello will sit tonight in preparation for the postseason.

Alain Vigneault gives a lineup update as he hopes to give some players more ice time while others are able to heal before round one of the playoffs begins.

Zuccarello is one of just four Rangers to have played in all 79 games this season. Throw in the games he’s played in the Olympic qualifying tourney for Norway and his participation in the World Cup for Team Europe, “The Little Engine That Could” has played a ton of hockey and rest is well advised. He has played a complete three-zone game this season and wins more one-on-one battles than any player his size should. Zucc has been tremendous and has my vote for team MVP.

3 KEYS TO RANGERS-CAPITALS

1. Puck Management

Every team would love to have the puck for 60 minutes. It doesn’t work that way though. There are times you have to give it up. Where it goes is crucial. The Rangers have three regular season games left to manage the puck wisely in preparation for the postseason, so might as well start tonight.

2. Caps Power Play

With the trade deadline acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk, a smart, deadly power play got smarter and deadlier. If a penalty is taken, it better be a good one because the price is likely to be steep when facing this Caps power play.

3. Depth

The six through 12 forwards in the Ranger lineup tonight will be forced to compete against what many observe to be the deepest group of forwards in the league. Holding the fort, spending as much time out of the D-Zone and not taking penalties will be important for the back end of the Ranger forward lineup.

COVERAGE

Don LeGreca and I will have all the Rangers-Caps action tonight on the MSG Radio Network, ESPN 98.7 FM. Pregame at 7:30, puck drop a little after 8.

Check it out!