What we learned from the Rangers’ 4-1 Game 1 win over the Capitals: 3 takeaways

NEW YORK — Thanks to a pair of fan favorites — one for his youthful energy and physicality, the other for his on-ice heroics throughout the seasons — the New York Rangers seized control of Game 1 in the second period against Washington and didn’t look back. This happened within a minute of game time.

After a stop-and-start, penalty-filled first period, bruising rookie Matt Rempe — making his playoff debut — brought life into the building early in the second, firing a Jimmy Vesey touch pass into the Capitals net. Artemi Panarin, New York’s leading scorer, followed up the goal with one of his own 33 seconds later. He whipped his stick through the air in celebration.

The Rangers went on to win 4-1, taking the early 1-0 edge in the series. Rempe, Panarin, Vesey and Chris Kreider scored, and Igor Shesterkin made 20 saves. There was plenty of physicality, too, as the teams had multiple skirmishes throughout the afternoon. Tom Wilson got sent off to the dressing room early after creating a scrum in the crease with a minute left. Former Rangers prospect Dylan McIlrath also got banished.

Here are takeaways from the New York win.

Vesey, fourth line thrive

The Rangers will need depth scoring if they are going to go on a deep playoff run, and the fourth line of Vesey, Rempe and center Barclay Goodrow provided it in Game 1. It started early in the second period when Goodrow, positioned behind the net, moved the puck to Vesey, who one-touched it through the crease. Rempe, meanwhile, skated to the front of the net and whipped a shot past Charlie Lindgren. The 6-foot-8 wing, who received “Rem-pe! Rem-pe!” chants from New York fans his first shift, extended his arms in celebration as the crowd exploded.

After getting the primary assist on the Rangers’ first goal, Vesey scored off a Goodrow faceoff win. The wing grabbed the puck in the high slot and shot it off John Carlson’s stick and in. The Capitals appeared to want a penalty call on Rempe, who collided with Beck Malenstyn after the faceoff. That opened the shooting lane for Vesey.

Goodrow, who had only eight assists in the regular season, had two in the second period alone. Vesey nearly scored again early in the third period but couldn’t quite poke in a loose puck in front of the net and Rempe got a shot off on a rush attempt in the third. The Rangers controlled the expected goal share with those three forwards together on the ice, per Natural Stat Trick.

Penalty-filled first

Capitals coach Spencer Carbery predicted a high-energy, ultra-physical first 10 minutes of the game. That — paired with a whistle-happy officiating crew — led to a first period filled with penalties. The teams committed a combined six minor penalties, and only 9:17 of the period was played at five-on-five. The Rangers had 99.8 percent of the expected goal share during that stretch, according to Natural Stat Trick, but the majority of the period was a special teams battle or four-on-four play.

In theory, special teams games should favor the Rangers, who had top-three power-play and penalty-kill units in the regular season. The New York power play generated a few solid chances but couldn’t break through and the team’s penalty kill looked strong, as it did to end the regular season. Though Alex Ovechkin tried a few of his trademark slap shots, the Capitals didn’t create much on their first-period power plays and Shesterkin was there to stop what they did.

Panarin off to good playoff start

Heading into the postseason, Panarin stressed that “everything important is in the playoffs.” His 120-point regular season would matter a lot less if he couldn’t deliver in the most important games of the year.

Panarin struggled during the playoffs last year, logging only two assists and zero goals in a seven-game series loss to the New Jersey Devils. He’s off to a much better start this year. After an Alexis Lafrenière hit forced a Capitals turnover following Rempe’s goal in the second period, Vincent Trocheck slid Panarin a pass, and the wing put it past Lindgren for his first playoff goal since 2022.

Panarin created multiple other scoring chances throughout the game. Lindgren snared a few of his shots with his glove, but Panarin’s skating at one point caused a Capitals defenseman to fall during a Rangers power play. He’s made fans of at least one of his fellow New York athletes, too. Per The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner, Juan Soto left Yankee Stadium wearing a Panarin jersey on Sunday.

The Rangers’ other top-six trio also generated a goal, with Kreider scoring on a breakaway to clinch the game in the third. Mika Zibanejad and deadline acquisition Jack Roslovic picked up assists on the play.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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