Three is the Magic Number for Beating the Capitals

The Rangers' upset chances hinge on three players

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    One forward, one defenseman and one goalie can't do it all alone. But the Rangers can't do it unless all three of them play at their highest levels.

    Whatever happens against the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, the Rangers have succeeded in one key department this season.

    They have finally earned an identity that doesn't include throwing money wildly at every big name that wanders past their door. There are still vestiges of that system, but, for the most part, members of this Rangers team have earned their way to New York by coming through the system and establishing themselves the right way.

    That's led to a team that's as resilient as it is inconsistent and one that can surprise you in either direction. There's a confidence borne of familiarity with this team that the Rangers have not had in the recent past and it has served them well when things haven't gone their way.

    It is going to take more than confidence to knock off the Capitals, though, The Rangers are going to need to score some goals, shut down Alex Ovechkin and prevent the rest of the Caps from putting the puck in the net.

    A full team effort will be necessary to accomplish all three of those goals, but there are three men who will be called on more than their teammates. And, as it happens, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist even match up with each of those goals.

    Dubinsky and the injured Ryan Callahan exemplify the new identity that the Rangers have established as much or more than any other members of the team. They aren't flashy players nor did they come to the team with lavish resumes, they just outwork and outhustle the opposition at every turn.  

    What Dubinsky has never done is be the team's leader in a playoff series. The Rangers are significantly better when their forecheck is creating opportunities and Dubinsky has to lead that effort while scoring goals for the team to beat the Capitals.

    Staal made a gigantic leap this season with a spot in the All-Star Game and a regular turn in the team's first defensive pairing with Dan Girardi. Girardi can be streaky, which puts all the more onus on Staal when it comes to stopping Ovechkin. 

    Staal is going to have to log heavy minutes in every game without losing any effectiveness. He's got the skills to do it but, like Dubinsky, hasn't ever had to take on the leadership role in a playoff atmosphere. 

    Lundqvist, on the other hand, has done that. While the rest of the team was forging its identity, Lundqvist's quality was keeping them from feeling too many growing pains.

    He had the Rangers on the brink of beating the Caps in the first round two years ago by standing on his head against a barrage of shots. He'll have to do the same this time around because the only spot on the ice where the Rangers have a clear advantage is between the pipes.  

    One forward, one defenseman and one goalie can't do it all alone. But the Rangers can't do it unless all three of them play at their highest levels.  

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.