The latest chapter of a heated Eastern Conference rivalry will be written Sunday when the Washington Capitals face the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
But this time, it’ll be written in front of a national audience.
Yes, Caps-Rangers is NBC’s feature game this weekend (12:30 p.m. ET ), something both sides are acutely aware of as they meet for the third time this season.
“I think whenever you’re on national TV and you have a big audience like that, it’s a little more exciting,” Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman told CSN Washington. “Those NBC games are more exciting because you’ve got more people watching at home. There are definitely a few more texts if you mess up, that’s for sure.”
It’s a big game, but also a game of firsts for Washington. Dale Hunter will coach at MSG for the first time in his career; the game also marks Washington’s first visit since MSG’s $850 million renovation project. New York won the first of two meetings at the Verizon Center 6-3, before Washington rebounded with a 4-1 victory in late December.
“I think everybody likes playing [at MSG],” said Hunter. “The atmosphere there, it’s an original six team. It will be an intense game.”
The teams built their rivalry largely on playoff matchups — Washington and New York have met in two of the last three postseasons, with the higher-seeded Caps winning both — but unlike previous years, it’s Washington looking up at New York in the standings. The Rangers improved their conference-leading record to 35-13-5 with their 5-2 win against the Flyers on Saturday. The Capitals, meanwhile, are in ninth place in the conference with a 28-21-5 mark.
“It’s a huge test,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We have to play our best hockey to win.”
— You can chat with PHT’s Mike Halford online during the game by heading to NBCSports.com, then clicking on the liveplayer for an interactive Twitter Q&A.
— NHL.com’s Corey Masisak has a great piece about the challenges Hunter’s facing in Washington.
— Jeremy Roenick says it’s “advantage Rangers” on Sunday.
— NHL.com’s Dave Lozo profiles New York’s Vezina-worthy goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist.