Capitals Playoffs 2011: Caps square off with New York Rangers in 1st round

(Photo: Associated Press)

On Wednesday, the Washington Capitals will begin yet another quest to bring D.C. its first Stanley Cup title.

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It all starts on Wednesday night at Verizon Center when the top-ranked Capitals host the 8th-seeded New York Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

It didn't end well for the Capitals last season. The Capitals blew a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, scoring just three goals in games 5, 6 and 7 combined en route to being upset.

In that series, it was Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak shutting the door on Washington, and it doesn't get any easier this year as the Rangers boast star goalie Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. The All-Star goalie boasts a .923 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average this season. He was 2-1 against the Capitals this year and both of his wins were shutouts.

The Capitals struggled with New York this season, winning only once in four games and suffering two of their most embarrassing losses of the season. On Dec. 12, in the midst of an eight game losing streak, the Rangers whacked Washington 7-0 in Manhattan. Two months later, on Feb. 25, they did it again; a 6-0 thumping here in D.C.

However, Katie Carrera of the Washington Post says that the team found their identity after that 7-0 loss and started to turn the season around after that futile effort.

“Not taking anything away from [the Rangers]; they played great hockey against us and we just couldn’t hang with them at that time," defenseman Karl Alzner told the Post. "Hopefully it’s going to be a different story now.”

This is also the second time in three seasons the Capitals have drawn the Rangers in the 1st round. In 2009, late-season pickup Sergei Fedorov scored late in the 3rd period of Game 7 to eliminate New York.

Predictions are pouring in from around the league on the series, and most of them are favoring the Capitals. ESPN and The Hockey News pick the Caps in 6, The Sporting News in 5 and NBC Sports in 7.

The pursuit of the NHL's top prize has come up empty every year for Washington since they entered the league in 1974, and beyond the franchise's one trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998, the Caps have found themselves bounced earlier than they'd like more often than not.

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