Rangers aware Capitals have ‘1 path to victory,’ ESPN hockey reporter says

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Though the New York Rangers are huge favorites to knock off the Washington Capitals in their Eastern Conference First Round series, the underdogs do have at least one thing going for them.

Charlie Lindgren emerged this season as a bonafide No. 1 NHL goalie, one who kept the Capitals’ playoff dreams alive and carried them into the postseason. So, Washington’s hopes to upset the Rangers in the first round are placed squarely on Lindgren.

“I think they are a pretty healthy underdog, and there’s one path to victory for the Capitals and that’s Charlie Lindgren,” ESPN hockey reporter Greg Wyshynski told Forever Blueshirts and Sportsnaut this week. “If he continues to play lights out, if he steals games, especially on the road, then they at least have a puncher’s chance.”

The Rangers and Capitals split their season series, with each team winning twice on home ice. Lindgren was a major reason for that. In three starts against the Rangers this season, Lindgren was 2-1-0 with a 1.35 goals-against average and .955 save percentage. He shut the Rangers out 4-0 on Dec. 9, stopping all 31 shots he faced, and also led the Capitals to a 3-2 win on Jan. 13.

The older brother of Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren made 29 saves but lost a duel with Igor Shesterkin in a 2-1 Capitals’ loss at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 14.

So, the Rangers know they’ll have their hands full in this best-of-7 series, which begins Sunday afternoon at MSG.

Related: 3 Rangers keys in game 1 against Capitals

Rangers must solve Capitals goalie Charlie Lindgren in 1st-round series

NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

At first blush, it might appear that Lindgren isn’t a major difference maker for the Capitals because their goal differential during the regular season was a miserable -37, worst among all playoff teams.

But a closer look pins most of that on a largely impotent Capitals offense and a middling defense.

In other words, who knows how bad it could’ve been for Washington had Lindgren not emerged, replacing Darcy Kuemper as their No. 1 goalie, to save Washington’s season?

The 30-year-old was a backup option before this season with the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues and Capitals, playing just 60 games in seven NHL seasons. But he was outstanding in 2023-24, tied for the League lead with six shutouts when he posted a 25-16-7 record, 2.67 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

Lindgren was eighth among all goalies (minimum 50 games played) in save percentage and ninth in GAA. His numbers stack up right alongside those of Shesterkin, the former Vezina Trophy winner who was tied for fifth in save percentage (.913) and was seventh in GAA (2.58). Shesterkin, playing behind a far superior team that won the Presidents’ Trophy, had a 36-17-2 record.

A workhorse down the stretch when the Capitals needed every point they could get to finally squeeze into the playoffs with a win in their final game of the regular season, Lindgren started 19 of their final 22 games. In that stretch he was 12-6-2 with a 2.39 GAA, .919 save percentage and three shutouts. His 12 wins from March 7 to the end of the season were most in the NHL.

Lindgren backstopped three must-wins to close out the season, allowing a total of three goals.

But is a hot goalie enough to carry the Capitals to a first-round upset against the Rangers, a team Kenny Albert told Forever Blueshirts has “no holes” in its lineup? Never say never because history shows us that teams can feed off their goalie, elevate their play and find ways to stun heavy favorites in the postseason.

Wyshynski feels that’s unlikely in this series, though.

“They were able to eek into the playoffs, and I give them full credit for doing so because it was a very tight race,” Wyshynski said. “But ultimately, they’re overmatched in this series. If they were able to win this series, it would be one of the bigger upsets we’ve had since Columbus knocked off the Lightning (in the 2019 first round).

“I’d never count them out … they’re a proud bunch, a stubborn bunch, but a bunch that is a clear underdog in this series.”

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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