However, victory is going to be an uphill battle on both ends.
Washington (5-8-1) has won three straight, but still ranks dead last in the East and has struggled to find consistency between the pipes under first-year coach Adam Oates. Braden Holtby has been solid during the team's winning streak, but he and Michal Neuvirth have a long way to go before the Caps are fully out of the woods.
New York (7-5-1) has also stumbled out of the gate this season, but is slowly starting to look like the tough and balanced squad that finished first in the conference last year. Following a crushing loss to the rival Islanders on February 14, the Rangers will surely be out to have a big game against Washington.
Throw in the playoff rematch implications, and this is a game that no hockey fan should miss under any circumstances.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
When: Sunday, February 17, 6 p.m. EST
TV: NBCSN, RDS
Live Stream: NHL Gamecenter
Injury Report (via USA Today)
Jack Hillen (upper body, out)
Brooks Laich (groin, out)
Tom Poti (upper body, questionable)
Marcus Johansson (upper body, questionable)
Michael Sauer (concussion, out)
Rangers X-Factor: Brad Richards, C
Richards may be second on the Rangers in points tallied, with 10 on the season, but he has done a good job of creating opportunities for his teammates in also sharing the lead in assists.
Against Washington, however, New York needs him to be great.
Keep in mind that the Rangers brought Richards aboard in 2011 to be an offensive catalyst, but he has only tallied two goals this year. In the team's most recent game, head coach John Tortorella benched his star center for all but 47 seconds of the third period.
Against a feisty team like Washington, that cannot happen.
This means that Richards needs to channel some of that old playoff fire, the same kind that gave the Rangers momentum in Game 7 against Washington last year. If he can get going and break his eight-game goal drought, or just play more aggressively on offense, then the pendulum ultimately swings in New York's favor.
Capitals X-Factor: Nicklas Backstrom, C
To defeat the Rangers, the Capitals need speed and balance. This comes perfectly in the form of Backstrom who, despite having 11 points on the season, has registered just one goal.
Simply put, Washington needs Backstrom to score against New York.
This is the same man who has already accumulated 102 goals in less than six years of play, so we know that he is capable of being an offensive spark. Granted, he has struggled with injuries the past couple of seasons, but the fact that he has only taken 10 shots on goal over his past five games is a bit discouraging.
As a top scorer, he should be far more aggressive on offense.
If Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin can get a collective motor running and play the same fast-paced game that forced both teams to Game 7 in last year's playoffs, then Washington has a chance. Otherwise, this game will belong to the Rangers from the get-go.
Washington may be on a three-game winning streak, but that train stops in New York. The Rangers are just too good at home, having gone 5-2-1 at Madison Square Garden, and their starting to turn the corner will shine bright in this contest.
The sad truth is that while offense is all well and good, it is meaningless if the goaltenders and defense are incapable of maintaining a lead. Such will be the case for either Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth, who will get a lesson in consistency from New York's offense.
Brad Richards will finally snap his goal drought, and team captain Ryan Callahan will play excellent defense while also setting up great opportunities for his teammates. The Capitals will have a hard time getting past the defense of Marc Staal, who will man his position with authority.
Throw in a great performance from reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist, and the Rangers will exit the ice as winners.
New York Rangers 4, Washington Capitals 2
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