Match-ups are at the core of any playoffs series, and the first round series between the Capitals and Rangers is no exception. Here's how we see the two teams stacking up in seven key areas:
Offense - The Capitals had the second most goals in the NHL this season; the Rangers had the second fewest. The Capitals had four players with more points than anyone on the Rangers and three players with more goals. This one's not even close, but the Rangers get two checks because the additions of Nik Antropov, Derek Morris, and John Tortorella make them better than the season-long numbers suggest. This is probably where the Capitals have their single biggest advantage.
Defense - The Capitals were 21st in the league in goals against average but between the injuries to the back line (about one in five man-games on defense were played by guys currently in Hershey), Jose Theodore's poor start to the season, and how undisciplined the team is, the numbers make the Capitals look worse than they actually are. That said, the Rangers allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL this season. Sure, a large part of that is the system they've played for most of the season, but keeping opponents off the board is keeping opponents off the board, no matter how it's done.
Goaltending - This has to be the biggest advantage for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist is among the NHL's best and can steal games for his team on a regular basis. Still, his 11-12/2.57/.907 career playoff stat line isn't all that great and it drops to 7-12/2.78/.901 outside of the team's 2007 series against Atlanta in which the Rangers ran roughshod over the Thrashers. Meanwhile Jose Theodore has never lost a first round playoff series and has a solid playoff resume. New York has the edge here, but it's not as significant as it's going to be made out to be.
Powerplay - The Capitals finished second in the league in powerplay conversion rate and set a franchise record in the process. The Rangers were 29th in the league in powerplay success and haven't been any better under Tortorella. Like total offense, this one's not even close.
Penalty Kill - Like total defense, the numbers suggest the Capitals units are worse than they actually are. Even with that caveat it's a stretch to say the Caps are much above average and they could be missing Boyd Gordon for all or part of this series. The Rangers led the NHL in penalty killing effectiveness.
Coaching - Bruce Boudreau has a better record and won the Jack Adams Award last season. John Tortorella has a Jack Adams too, and of course that Stanley Cup to his name. The coaching match-up is an intriguing one, and it's probably too close to call.
Intangibles - The Rangers have more playoff experience; the Capitals have great chemistry. The Rangers have Sean Avery; the Capitals have home ice advantage. The Capitals have played on autopilot for much of the season's second half and may not be able to ramp things up at will; the Rangers had to fight to get in the playoffs and might be worn out. This one's a toss-up.
As a whole, the advantage for the series has to go to Washington. The Capitals are simply bigger, faster, stronger, and more skilled than the Rangers, and while it's possible a strong outing from Lundvist could make the series competitive it is, quite frankly, a series the Capitals should win.