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Thursday night the #6 seeded New York Rangers head to the nation’s capital to take on the #3 seeded Washington Capitals.  To get some insight on the Rangers and what we can expect in the playoffs, Joe Fortunato of BlueShirtBanter.com is giving us a look at the series from a Rangers point of view.  Make sure to follow Joe on Twitter at @BlueShirtBanter.

1. The New York Rangers were picked by many to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference standings this year.  Why did they struggle and need a good April to make the playoffs?

The biggest reason is easily that Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards struggled mightily throughout the year, and since the Rangers were such a top-heavy team (they sacrificed most of their depth for Rick Nash) they struggled with two of their three stars. Nash also got off to a slow start in the goal scoring category, too, which didn’t help. Then there were minor reasons: John Tortorella teams need a training camp (the Rangers never got one), the team needed some time to gel (they had a pretty major overhaul of players from the year before) and the fact that it was a 48-game season. In an 82-game season we would look at the Rangers 10-3-1 run through April as the team finding their way (since that run obviously would have taken place earlier in the year), but in a shortened season the pace skewed everything.

2. Coach John Tortarella seems to have a very abrasive style when it comes to dealing with the media and even with his players, at any point this season did it seem like he had lost control?

I don’t think he lost control for even a second. The way he is with the media isn’t the exact same way he is with his players. He demands a lot, but he also gives a lot. I don’t think the Rangers didn’t want to play for Tortorella (as some suggested during the Rangers struggles) I just don’t think his style fit the new look of the team once they made the move for Nash. The Gaborik trade helped match the team’s grinding style with the acquired players. Ryane Clowe helped a lot in this department, too. So did Mats Zuccarello for that matter.

3. It is wisely known that the Rangers struggle to put pucks in the net, what was your reaction to scorer Marian Gaborik being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets?

I think the Rangers got some quality players back for Gaborik. His struggles, injury concerns, contract and his trade value were all major factors. The Rangers got incredible value for Gaborik. Before the trade deadline the Rangers were near the bottom of the NHL in goal scoring per game. After the trade? They’re scoring more than 3.6 goals a game. A TON of that has to do with Derick Brassard (11 points in 13 games with the Rangers), Zuccarello (eight points in 15 games with the Rangers), Clowe (eight points in 12 games with the Rangers) and John Moore (six points in 13 games with the Rangers).

4. How important has the acquisition of Ryane Clowe been?

Clowe helps in a lot of different areas. He’s tough, going into the tough areas of the ice, isn’t afraid to crash the net, brings a wealth of playoff experience and veteran leadership. I think Clowe has been a huge part of the Rangers’ success since they got him.

5. This is the 4th time in 5 years that the Rangers will face the Washington Capitals in the playoffs. Do you think that helps or hurts the Rangers?

I don’t think it helps or hurts either team. Both teams have a different look and both teams should be used to each other as it is.

6. What is the key to the series for the Rangers?

Henrik Lundqvist is the key. He needs to keep the Capitals’ offense off the board. Oh, and the Rangers power play and penalty kill have to do their jobs.

7. Is this the year “The King”, Henrik Lundqvist leads them to the promised land?

I think he’s the best goaltender in the NHL. I think he’s always on his game, he’s been huge for the Rangers since he got here and he loves the big games and the bright lights. I don’t see why this can’t be his year.

8. Series Prediction?

Rangers in 6 or 7. Probably 7.

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