By Sky Kerstein

The Capitals had one full practice today before they head to New York to face the Rangers in game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals tomorrow at 3pm.  The seventh seeded Capitals beat the second seeded Boston Bruins in seven games on Wednesday, while the number one seeded New York Rangers defeated the eighth seeded Ottawa Senators in seven games last night.

“We know that the Rangers won our conference and top team all year,” Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter said.  “They play hard, they block shots, they got good skill up front, good goalie and their D [defense] are strong. We have to be at our best.”

All the healthy Caps practiced today and the forward lines looked like: Ovechkin-Laich-Brouwer, Johansson-Backstrom-Semin, Chimera-Beagle-Hendricks, Knuble-Aucoin-Ward, Sjogren-Perreault-Halpern.

Caps goalie Braden Holtby (4-3, 2.00 GAA, .940 Save pct.) will start his eighth playoff game in a row for the Caps as he faces Henrik Lundqvist (4-3, 1.70 GAA, .945 Save pct.) for the Rangers.

Holtby is 1-0-1 against the Rangers in his career, has stopped 64 of 66 pucks, and led the Caps to a 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden on the final day of the regular season while stopping 35 shots in that game.

“It’s still a hockey game,”  Holtby said.  “It doesn’t change much. Once you start putting more pressure on yourself for being in the playoffs, that’s when things go wrong. Just go with the flow right now. It’s just another hockey game. Go on to play the game we’ve played forever and do whatever we can to win.”

Caps forward Joel Ward responded today to the negative things that Bruins fans said about him after he scored the game winning and series clinching goal on Wednesday night.

“For me, it’s pretty simple,”  Ward said.  “I don’t let it bother me at all. It’s a few people that just made a couple of terrible comments and what can you do? I know what I signed up for. I’m a black guy playing a predominately white sport. It‘s just going to come with the territory. I’d feel naïve or foolish to think that it doesn’t exist. It is what it is and you know it’s going to be part of here and part of life. That’s just what it is.”

Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin had some very nice things to say about his teammate.

“He’s strong and he’s funny. He’s right now Michael Jordan of hockey.”

Ward got a standing ovation from Caps fans as he took the ice for practice today.

Hunter called the standing ovation “awesome”.

Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter coached three Rangers, Brandon Prust, Dan Girardi & Michael Del Zotto in the OHL for the London Knights and had a great story about Brandon Prust.

“He said to me one time, I was going to sit him out when he first came to me and we’re in Windsor, and he says ‘play me coach and you’ll never take me out’, I played him and I never took him out.”

This is the third time in four seasons the Caps will play the Rangers.  The Caps have won both series, including defeating the Rangers in five games last year.  This is the first time the Caps don’t have home ice advantage in the series.

Listen here to what Dale Hunter, Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, Joel Ward, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer & Mike Green had to say following practice.

Dale Hunter Practice Audio

Alex Ovechkin Practice Audio

Braden Holtby Practice Audio

Joel Ward Practice Audio

Nicklas Backstrom Practice Audio

Troy Brouwer Practice Audio

Mike Green Practice Audio


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