At first glance, the Rangers seem to have played their way into a best-case scenario.

A 10-3-1 April propelled them into the sixth spot on the last day of the 48-game regular season and a fourth playoff matchup against the Capitals in the last five years, thus avoiding the top-seeded Penguins and, most likely, Sidney Crosby.

Except, of course, the Capitals are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference right now.

The series opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Verizon Center. Game 2 is 12:30 on Saturday, and the series moves to Madison Square Garden on May 6 and May 8 (7:30 starts).

"I think we are where we need to be," defenseman Dan Girardi said after the Rangers' concluded their regular season Saturday with a convincing 4-0 win over the bags-packed Devils. "April was a good month for us. We played our style of hockey and won in different fashions."

There's also a certain sense of familiarity in facing the Capitals, even if 12 players on the Rangers' roster did not participate in their seven-game win in last year's conference semifinals. That put the Rangers in the conference final for the first time since 1997, before they lost to the Devils in six games.