Facing Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals on Tuesday night at the Garden will almost be like looking in the mirror for Rangers.
The home side will enter the match as winners of eight of their last 10 games, while the visitors can increase this stat as winners of nine of their last 10. The two clubs were in very different places just a month ago, and both have started stringing together wins at the right time to catch up in the standings.
Despite the Rangers having a game in hand, a point separates the Blueshirts and Capitals in the Metropolitan Division heading into Tuesday’s game. If the season were to end today, the Rangers would be the No. 1 wild card and Washington would be No. 2 in the Eastern Conference.
It has become very clear that every division game will be crucial in the Metropolitan classification, which is already neck and neck between six of the eight teams. And it will be the first of four meetings between the Rangers and the Capitals.
Ovechkin will take to the ice at the world’s most famous arena in the midst of his quest to break hockey’s most famous record. The veteran scoring machine tallied goals 801 and 802 just before the holiday break to surpass the great Gordie Howe and move into second on the NHL’s all-time list. Wayne Gretzky, of course, is the once untouchable record holder of 894 goals.
With points in eight of the Capitals’ last 10 games, including five multi-point results, Ovechkin is still scoring at the blistering pace he arrived in the NHL with 17 years ago. He’s had at least one point in 23 of 36 games this season, recorded at least one shot in every game this season and hasn’t been limited to zero shots since Nov. 11 last season. It was also the only game in which he hadn’t recorded a shot during the Capitals’ entire 2021-22 campaign.
The 37-year-old Ovechkin’s quest for greatness deserves respect, but Rangers can’t get caught giving their opponent too much respect.
Not that playing too respectfully has been a problem for Rangers this season, but getting caught up in momentum has been. A historic goal from Ovechkin at a big moment in the match is certainly one of those types of situations that Rangers need to be wary of and prepare for.
Much like the Rangers’ first two months of the season, the Capitals got off to a rocky start with a 10-12-4 record. Rangers were in the same boat, sitting outside watching the playoff picture, at 11-10-5. The only other Metro teams that finished as strong as the Rangers and Capitals before the four-day layoff were the first-place Hurricanes and the third-place Penguins.
Now the Rangers are just behind Pittsburgh, which has two games in hand, fourth with the same 43 points. Washington is also there in fifth place with 42 points.
Rangers and Capitals fought their way back into the thick of the competition and earned something of a second chance for their season. Both teams will be looking to make it count going forward.