After two big wins in Detroit and Montreal, the Capitals headed to New York where a big nemesis awaits them. Even though the New York Rangers are in the rebuilding stage, it doesn’t detract from the rivalry that the Rangers and the Capitals have. The two teams will meet twice in a home-and-home series beginning Monday night in New York and concluding on Wednesday night in D.C. In this piece, NoVa Caps will take a look at the previous history between the Capitals and Rangers.
While the Capitals have been known to have a ton of beef with the two teams in Pennsylvania (Flyers and Penguins), there’s another big rival that plays further north. Washington D.C. as we know it, is one of the most famous cities in the United States. It’s the Capital of our great country and there’s many great monuments that tourists can check out.
There’s another city in America that is 230 miles north of D.C. known as “The Big Apple”. Like D.C., many tourists flock to this city as well. New York City is biggest city in the country and is known for their large skyscrapers, broadway shows, and five boroughs- each one unique in its own way.
Before these teams were reunited as division rivals in the Metropolitan Division, both teams were in the Patrick division in the 1980s. Washington was still a relatively new team and had finished last in the division each year until 1983. 1983 was the year the Capitals finally made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Even then, the rivalry wasn’t truly born until three years later when the teams met during Patrick Division Finals in 1986.
The Capitals came into that series as a favorite as they posted 107 points that season compared to the Rangers 78. Washington finished second in the Patrick Division just three points behind the first-place Flyers. Each team split the first four games but the Rangers would prevail in the final two games to take the series in six games, giving the Capitals their first bitter taste of playoff disappointment.
In January of 1987, just eight months after the birth of the rivalry, the teams took part in a blockbuster trade. The Capitals shipped Bobby Carpenter to New York in exchange for Mike Ridley, Kelly Miller and Bob Crawford. Just two seasons prior to that deal, Carpenter scored 53 goals but in the end Washington won the trade.
Carpenter would last 28 games with the Blueshirts before being traded to the Kings that March. Meanwhile, Ridley would tally 15 goals, 19 assists for 34 points in 40 games with the Capitals. He would later have a 41-goal season in 1988-89. Miller would play for the Capitals for 13 seasons.
In 1990 the teams met once again in the Patrick Division Final, with the Capitals getting revenge this time around. The Rangers came into that series defeating their New York counterparts, the Islanders, in five games. The Capitals, meanwhile, defeated the team across the Hudson River: the New Jersey Devils in six games. After dropping Game 1, the Capitals responded in Game 2 with a 6-3 win. Unfortunately, they lost Dino Ciccarelli to a knee injury. Despite losing one of their biggest stars, the Capitals dominated the series, winning the following three games. John Druce would be the hero that sent the Capitals to their first Conference Final, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 5. Druce not only scored the series-clinching goal, he had six goals in just that series alone!
The following year, the Capitals defeated the Rangers in the Patrick Division semifinals. After dropping the first two games of the series, the Capitals won the next four.
In 1994, the Rangers and Capitals met in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Rangers would win the series in five games and go on to win their first Stanley Cup since 1940. That would be the final time these teams would meet in the playoffs until the turn of the new century.
In 1998, the NHL had a realignment moving the Capitals into the Southeast Division while the Rangers would play in the Atlantic Division.
The rivalry between the Capitals and Rangers would be reignited in 2009 when the two teams met in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Capitals were in the playoffs for the second time in the Alex Ovechkin era. Ovechkin began emerging into a superstar and the city started becoming energized with the excitement of hockey. The Rangers also had a young superstar of their own in goaltender Henrik Lunqvist.
The Rangers took the first two games in DC before Washington took Game 3. After the Caps dropped Game 4 their backs were against the wall, staring at a 3-1 series hole. Washington would shut out the Rangers 4-0 in Game 5 as Matt Bradley scored twice and Alex Semin and Alex Ovechkin each tallied a goal to keep their season alive.
Then-Rangers head coach John Tortorella even got involved in an altercation with a fan. After the fan heckled him, Tortorella threw a water bottle into the stands and even used a hockey stick in a waving motion. Torts’ actions resulted in a suspension in Game 6.
The Capitals won Game 6 5-3 at The Garden to take the series back to Washington for a decisive Game 7. With the score tied 1-1 late in the third period, Sergei Fedorov would be the hero in a moment that Caps fans will never forget.
The Capitals and Rangers met again two years later, in the quarterfinals in 2011. Washington bowed out to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round the previous season after leading the series 3-1 and were coming into that postseason looking for redemption. The Capitals won the first two games of the series in Verizon Center before the Rangers took Game 3.
This time around, it was the Capitals bench boss Bruce Boudreau that made all the headlines among the fans. Instead of confronting a fan that heckled him, he instead went on the radio and had this to say about the “world’s most famous arena”:
“It’s reputation is far better than the actual building. The locker rooms are horrible, the benches are horrible. Also… our building is a lot louder too.”
The Rangers fans surely heard about it and were fired up for Game 4. The Rangers fed off the crowd and went up 3-0 prompting the fans to chant, “Can you hear us?”
The Capitals responded with a comeback, scoring three goals in the third period to force overtime. Semin netted the first goal while rookie Marcus Johansson added two. In double overtime, Jason Chimera would quiet the crowd for good.
This brought the series back to D.C. with the Capitals up three games to one and unlike the previous year, the Caps closed out the series in Game 5 with a 3-1 win. The Capitals fans responded throughout the game chanting “We are louder!”
The rest of the highlights included goals by Mike Green, Ovechkin, and Semin.
The following year, both teams met in the second round in a series that went seven games. The Rangers won every odd numbered game including a triple overtime affair in Game 3 in DC with a goal by Marian Gaborik.
The Rangers also defeated the Capitals in their next two postseason meetings. In 2013, a lockout reduced season, they met in the quarterfinals. The home team won each of the first five games. Game 2 was an exciting game that was scoreless for 60 minutes before Mike Green finally broke through in overtime.
The Capitals took a 3-2 series lead after winning Game 5 with an overtime goal by Mike Ribero.
Unfortunately after that thriller the Capitals were unable to close out the series as they were blanked by Henrik Lundqvist in Games 6 and 7.
In 2015, the first year of the Barry Trotz era, the Capitals showed promise in their series against the Rangers in the second round. They got off on the right foot with a buzzer beater goal by Joel Ward.
Washington would take that momentum and go up in the series 3-1. In Game 5 the Capitals were just 101 seconds away from becoming the first DC team since 1998 to get past the second round of the playoffs. The Rangers had other ideas.
After that tying-goal by Chris Kreider, the Capitals would falter in overtime. The Rangers would force a Game 7 with a road win in Game 6. In the decisive seventh game, the contest would require overtime where Derek Stepan would end the Capitals’ season.
There is no telling what will happen in the future of the Capitals vs. Rangers rivalry but as the past has indicated, there will be plenty of thrilling games and new memories to come. Maybe these teams will meet in the playoffs again in a few years from now.
By Michael Marzzacco