The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs features 16 teams in eight best-of-7 series, which start Saturday. Today, previews the Eastern Conference First Round between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.

(1M) New York Rangers vs. (WC2) Washington Capitals

Rangers: 55-23-4, 114 points

Capitals: 40-31-11, 91 points

Season series: NYR 2-2-0; WSH 2-2-0

Game 1: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden (ESPN, SN, TVAS).

The New York Rangers will try to parlay the success of their regular season into a long run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, beginning with the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals.

"Best team in the NHL, so we know we have our hands full," Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said.

The Rangers set team records for wins (55) and points (114), winning the Presidents' Trophy as the team with the most points in the regular season for the fourth time in their history. 

"We've just proven to ourselves over and over again the kind of character we have in the room, the resilience," defenseman Jacob Trouba said. "When we want to play good hockey, we're capable of playing pretty good hockey."

The Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Final the last time they won the Presidents' Trophy (2014-15). In fact, they got to the conference final that year by defeating the Capitals in Game 7 of the second round, the third seven-game series they won against Washington in a span of four years.

New York went 26-7-1 in its final 34 games this season to outlast the Carolina Hurricanes, who finished second in the Metropolitan Division with 111 points. 
"The boxes are checked," said Rangers coach Peter Laviolette, who coached the Capitals the previous three seasons. "It's good. A good regular season. You've got to do well in this part of the process in order to get a chance to play for the Cup. We were able to do that, and I think the guys are really excited to move forward and we're looking forward to that, getting on to the playoffs."

Washington clinched a playoff berth Tuesday, Game 82, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 at Wells Fargo Center.

The Capitals won four of their last five games to come from behind and earn the second wild card from the Eastern Conference. They did it after being sellers before the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline, trading forward Anthony Mantha to the Vegas Golden Knights, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov to the Hurricanes and defenseman Joel Edmundson to Toronto Maple Leafs, getting a total of five draft picks in return.

"Obviously, we know their coach pretty well," Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said of the Rangers and Laviolette. "They're a great team. They've got some pretty high-octane offensive weapons over there and they create a lot of offense. So, it's going to be an interesting matchup for us, and we try to pride ourselves on limiting other team's chances and keeping teams to low-scoring games." 

Game breakers

Rangers: Artemi Panarin had the best regular season of his eight-year NHL career, setting personal bests with 49 goals, 120 points and 302 shots on goal. He ended the season with 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) on a 13-game point streak. Panarin had at least one point in 67 of 82 games.

Capitals: It's Alex Ovechkin in Washington until it's not. Nothing has changed. He is still the Capitals' most dangerous goal scorer. Ovechkin had 31 this season, an NHL-record 18th time he's scored at least 30 in a season. He had eight goals in 43 games through Jan. 24, but picked it up and scored 23 in his last 36 games. Ovechkin has 13 goals in 33 playoff games against the Rangers.


Rangers: Igor Shesterkin found his game in the second half of the season and returned to being one of the best goalies in the world. He went 17-5-1 with a 2.20 GAA, .930 save percentage and four shutouts in 23 games from Feb. 9 through the end of the season. It was a world of difference from his first 32 games, when he was 19-12-1 with a 2.86 GAA, .899 save percentage and no shutouts. In 28 playoff games, all starts, Shesterkin is 13-14 with a 2.45 GAA and .929 save percentage and helped the Rangers to the conference final two years ago. Jonathan Quick, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, had a resurgent season as Shesterkin's backup, going 18-6-2 with a 2.62 GAA, .911 save percentage and two shutouts in 27 games (26 starts).

Capitals: Lindgren began wrestling the No. 1 role away from Darcy Kuemper in January and did not relinquish it. He started 34 of Washington's last 43 games, going 18-13-4 with a 2.84 GAA, .904 save percentage and four shutouts. He was arguably Washington's biggest asset down the stretch and the reason it came back to reach the playoffs. Lindgren started the last six games and went 4-1-1 with a 1.68 GAA, .937 save percentage and one shutout. He started Monday against the Boston Bruins and Tuesday against the Flyers, allowing one goal on 44 shots. Lindgren finished 25-16-7 with a 2.67 GAA, .911 save percentage and six shutouts in 50 games (48 starts). Kuemper went 13-14-3 with a 3.31 GAA, .890 save percentage and one shutout in 33 games (30 starts).

Numbers to know

Rangers: The Rangers also tied a team record for most wins at home in a regular season with 30 (first set in 1970-71) and set a record for most comeback wins in a season with 28, which also led the NHL. They scored 106 goals in the third period; the Capitals scored 68. The Rangers finished in the top five of the NHL in both power play (26.4 percent) and penalty kill (84.5 percent). 

Capitals: They made the playoffs despite a minus-36 goal differential. The Capitals were outscored in every period this season; 79-64 in the first, 85-80 in the second, 82-68 in the third and 6-4 in overtime. They got in because of their ability to play well in close games, going 20-2-11 in games decided by one goal. Their two regulation losses in one-goal games were the fewest in the League. Washington was 12-24-0 in games decided by at least three goals.

The crew on the Rangers winning the Presidents' Trophy


Rangers: Alexis Lafrenière had a breakout season with NHL career highs in points (57), goals (28), assists (29) and shots on goal (217) in an expanded role under Laviolette on a line with Panarin, a mostly elite forward. Lafrenière has 27 games of playoff experience but minimal offensive production (nine points; two goals, seven assists) with mostly bottom-six usage. If the line of Panarin, center Vincent Trocheck and Lafrenière can carry over its success to the postseason, the Rangers would likely overwhelm the Capitals and have an even more robust offense compared to their other deep playoff runs of the past decade. -- Pete Jensen

Capitals: Tom Wilson won the Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018 and was a difference-maker with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 21 games. Wilson is a three-time 20-goal scorer and had 18 (tied for fourth on Washington) in 74 games this season, including a stretch of 10 in 20 games from Oct. 27 to Dec. 14. Since entering the NHL in 2013-14, Wilson is sixth in hits (2,267; 3.0 per game). If he plays with discipline and brings physicality with consistent offense, he could shake up the series against the more talented Rangers. -- Pete Jensen

They said it

"It started in training camp, before training camp. It's been sustained in practice. We always compete. There's fun. As athletes it's fun to compete, especially with your buddies and your teammates at practice, and that carries over to the game. You have that energy and as athletes you want to compete and win something. Whenever you get the opportunity to win something it's special. That's why we're all here." -- Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba

"This time of year is a tough test no matter what. You can look at any year. Florida last year (reaching the Stanley Cup Final), plenty of different scenarios, so we need to focus on us. That's what we've been doing no matter who the opponent is, and we'll do our due diligence on their personnel and their systems, but when it comes down to it, if we play our style of hockey, we're confident we'll get wins." -- Capitals forward T.J. Oshie

Will win if…

Rangers: Panarin and Shesterkin carry their strong finishes to the regular season into the playoffs, and they win the special teams battle, which they have done all season. The Rangers are more dangerous on the power play and tougher on the penalty kill than the Capitals. They have to own the special teams in this series. If it comes down to low scoring, 5-on-5 games it could play to Washington's favor.

Capitals: Lindgren has to outplay Shesterkin, they need to keep the Rangers off the power play and the games have to be low scoring. The Capitals are at their best in tight, low-scoring games. They need to keep it low event and limit the shots against to have a chance against the Rangers.

How they look

Rangers projected lineup

Chris Kreider -- Mika Zibanejad -- Jack Roslovic

Artemi Panarin -- Vincent Trocheck -- Alexis Lafreniere

Will Cuylle -- Alex Wennberg -- Kaapo Kakko

Jimmy Vesey -- Barclay Goodrow -- Matt Rempe

Ryan Lindgren -- Adam Fox

K'Andre Miller -- Braden Schneider

Erik Gustafsson -- Jacob Trouba

Igor Shesterkin

Jonathan Quick

Scratched: Zac Jones, Chad Ruhwedel, Jonny Brodzinski

Injured: Filip Chytil (upper body)

Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin -- Connor McMichael -- T.J. Oshie

Aliaksei Protas -- Dylan Strome -- Tom Wilson

Max Pacioretty -- Hendrix Lapierre -- Sonny Milano

Beck Malenstyn -- Nic Dowd -- Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Martin Fehervary -- John Carlson

Alexander Alexeyev -- Dylan McIlrath

Trevor van Riemsdyk -- Vincent Iorio

Charlie Lindgren

Darcy Kuemper

Scratched: Ivan Miroshnichenko, Lucas Johansen, Michael Sgarbossa

Injured: Rasmus Sandin (upper body), Nick Jensen (upper body) staff writer Tom Gulitti contributed to this report