For the first time since 2012, and just the fourth time ever, the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals will face each other in the playoffs. Chara vs. his former team? Taylor Hall's first real playoff series (aka on a good team)? The storylines write themselves. It'll be the 2 seed Capitals hosting the 3 seed Bruins Saturday night for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Let's get into it.
Prior to this season the B's had lost a whopping 17 of 19 games in the regular season against the Caps (2-12-5).. thanks to Bruins killer Braden Holtby. This year was a much different tune for the B's, as they went 4-2-2 against Washington… (including their 2-1 loss on Tuesday night in the regular season finale in which they sat virtually every starter).
Here is what we can expect from both teams as the first round kicks off Saturday night.
Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak
Hall - Krejci - Smith
Ritchie - Kuraly - Coyle
DeBrusk - Lazar - Wagner
On deck: Frederic, Kuhlman
Let's start with the Bergeron line…
- Brad Marchand has been the B's MVP all year long and there's no stopping him now. He leads Boston with 29 goals, 40 assists in 53 games, and is 3rd in the NHL in points with 69.. nice.
I'm looking for Marchand to continue his strong play and have a big playoff run. Can't get his wires crossed too much, I know the Caps can be fucking annoying but the B's need him on the ice. Let the other guys handle the fisticuffs. He's at his best when he's tip toe-ing the line, but Marchand has been extremely effective and he can take over games this series. He has 7 goals and 6 assists against the Caps in 7 games this season.
Patrice Bergeron is having yet another Selke season (23G, 25A for 48 points in 54 games), and leads the NHL in FOW% at 62.24%. He'll get the toughest match ups this series but now that the 2nd line has come alive it has helped alleviate some pressure.
David Pastrnak had a quiet year (yet still put up 20G, 28A in 48 GP) since returning from hip surgery but you know when the lights are on he's gonna show up. Teams are starting to figure him out, especially on the PP, but I have no doubts about 88 and his abilities. I'm looking for the top line to do some damage this series, and if Pastrnak comes alive? Watch out.
- No B's player has more points since the NHL trade deadline than David Krejci who has racked up 21 points since Taylor Hall's arrival. Like I said earlier, the fact that the B's have two solid lines they can roll out is MASSIVE. Washington will look to shut down the Bergeron line and Bruce Cassidy can counter with the Krejci line. Krejci has lead the league twice in postseason scoring, a UFA at year's end, he's gonna do everything he can to extend his time in a Bruins uniform.
- Taylor Hall is feeling it right now. He has 8 goals and 6 assists for 14 points in his 16 games as a Bruin. He's helped revitalize David Krejci and the 2nd line. This is his first real playoff series (on a good team). Can't wait to see the damage he can do when the games matter. I'd be remiss to talk about Hall's 200 foot game as well, he's had some impressive back checks and defensive plays that sparked my eye. He's learning from Marchand how to be a complete player. Fired up to watch him Saturday night. He's speedy, great set of hands and a perfect fit with DK46.
Hall on his chemistry with Krejci…
"For me.. I’ve never played with right handed center man at all in my career. Maybe a little with Sam Gagner in Edmonton. To have a guy that doesn’t have to go to his backhand to pass me the puck when I’m coming up the wall.. I think it adds another dimension to our attack off the rush."
"It's been 16 games. It's probably been some of the most enjoyable hockey I've played in my career. I really hope there's more to come." - Taylor Hall after his OT winner vs. NYI on Monday night
Marchand had a great quote about Hall the other day…
- Ritchie - Kuraly - Coyle is a fairly new line that was thrown together towards the end of the season, but they have played really well together. Coyle was injured but will be good to go for Game 1. If this line does not continue their strong play, I can see Coyle flipping back to his natural C position, Kuraly being moved down and DeBrusk being moved up. But Nick Ritchie has had a stellar year and Kuraly and Coyle always seem to elevate their game(s) in the postseason.
- The Capitals have a heavy team, but the Bruins can kill them with speed. Jake DeBrusk has had a tough year but he's a guy who can rewrite his season in the playoffs. Curtis Lazar has been a welcomed addition to the 4th line from Buffalo, and right now Chris Wagner (who has had a strong ending to the season since returning from injury) is flanking that right side. But Trent Frederic is next in line if Cassidy chooses to go heavier in the playoffs. We all know Frederic can get under Wilson's skin… will there be a Part 3?
- Forward Ondrej Kase did not finish the second to last game of the regular season and has been deemed "day to day" Cassidy alluded to it being a conditioning issue, but Kase did not practice on Thursday.
Players to watch: Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Taylor Hall, Jake DeBrusk
Ovechkin - Backstrom - Mantha
Sheary - Eller - Wilson
Sprong - Raffl - Carr
Hagelin - Dowd - Hathaway
COVID 19 List: Kuznetsov
On deck: Pilon, Maillet
- The Capitals have been banged up as of late, Alex Ovechkin says he's 100% but had been nursing a LBI. TJ Oshie is injured, Nicklas Backstrom missed time as well. Biggest question for Caps forwards is their health as they head into Game 1. TJ Oshie skated on Thursday at practice but was wearing a no contact jersey.
Alex Ovechkin leads the Caps with 24 goals in 44 games, whereas Nicklas Backstrom leads the team in points with 53 in 52 games (15 goals, 38 assists). Obviously he's the guy for the Caps, especially on the PP. Gotta know where No. 8 is when he steps on the ice.
- The Caps acquired Anthony Mantha from Detroit at the trade deadline in exchange for Jakub Vrana+. This will be Mantha's first playoff series. Big body, can score. That top line is pretty scary with Ovechkin - Backstrom and Mantha. Some big guys who can score and obviously the playmaker in Backstrom.
- To state the obvious… all eyes are on Tom Wilson. He's a problem. Hate him or love him, the dude can play. B's gotta be smart against him. If they can gaud him into taking stupid penalties, great. But the Bruins need to play this series 5 on 5 if they want to be successful, don't put the Caps on the PP. Wilson is gonna be banging bodies, but part of me thinks he's going to think twice since all eyes are on him. He no longer has the benefit of the doubt (nor should he).. so any little thing the refs and the league are going to be looking at him. He's not going to want to hurt his team either… but if you're a B's fan you're hoping he does. Cam Neely said it best, the Bruins need to focus on what they need to do to be successful and be smart. Like Ovechkin, when 43 steps on the ice you have to know where he is.
- The Caps have a HEAVY 4th line (and some heavy forwards that can bang bodies), but their 4th line will be a line to watch. We'll see who they'll match up against come Game 1. Like Wilson, Hathaway is gonna cause problems.
Players to watch: Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, Anthony Mantha
Grzelcyk - McAvoy
Reilly - Carlo
Lauzon - Miller
On deck: Clifton, Tinordi, Zboril
- My confidence in the Bruins' D corps increased the second the Bruins acquired Mike Reilly. Him and Carlo have looked shaky at times towards the end of the year but I do think they are the perfect second pair right behind Grzelcyk and McAvoy. That being said, if they go through a tough stretch, I think Reilly would be better sheltered on the 3rd pair with Kevan Miller, in this series. I don't think any of these pairings are set in stone.
- Brandon Carlo is one of my players to watch on the B's defense, McAvoy gets all of the praise (deservedly so) but Carlo is right there with him when he's healthy. He's not as smooth as a skater, but Reilly can carry that weight. Caps are a big team and he's gonna have to bring it.
- Can't say enough good things about Charlie McAvoy this season, he truly did take his play to another level with Chara's departure. Almost as if the shackles were up since he did have to be more responsible with a slower Chara. He just does it all for the B's on defense and will be a key player in this series. He is the horse on the back end, will eat up minutes and will play against WASH's best.
- Like I said, Washington is definitely a heavier team.. I can see Lauzon moved up to play with McAvoy midway through the series. Not a knock on Grzelcyk, he's an outstanding skater, but the Capitals are gonna look to exploit him and bang him around. Might be best to balance out the defense. Bruins down a goal in the 3rd? You'll see Grzelcyk and McAvoy together. Just something to keep an eye on. These pairings can and I'm sure will change.
- Kevan Miller did not play in the second night of a back to back all year long. His health will be a big question mark this series and all playoffs long. The Caps are a heavy team (I feel like I've said this 2394234 times but it's true) and Miller will be important. If they need some more bite in the playoffs, they have Clifton and Tinordi waiting in the wings.
Players to watch: Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller
Orlov - Carlson
Dillon - Schultz
Chara - Jensen
On deck: van Riemsdyk
- Biggest storyline of the series is obviously Chara facing his former team. Having to eliminate our former Captain of 14 years Zdeno Chara in what could be his final NHL season is going to be tough!!! The Bruins will look to attack him as he's the slowest defenseman on the Caps but he's still a force on the PK.
- John Carlson is Washington's key cog on defense but he's been banged up as of late. No word if he's 100% but he was a full participant at practice on Thursday.
- Some big bodies on defense in Brendan Dillon (and Chara obviously). Caps ranked 13th in goals against this year (161). Bruins will try and get inside on these guys and put their skill up against them, especially when the Capitals don't have a sure thing in net.
Players to watch: John Carlson, Zdeno Chara, Dmitry Orlov
- Tuukka Rask has bounced back pretty well since his injury, 7-1-0. But is he 100%? The B's go as far as he goes. The first round being every other day does bode well for Rask and the B's. Like Krejci, Rask is a UFA at year's end, and has let it be known he wants to sign and extension and stay in Boston. Looking for Tuukka Rask to be Tuukka Rask in the postseason, and if he's not they got Jeremy Swayman on deck.
- Jeremy Swayman has officially stolen Jaro Halak's backup gig. Boston's goalie of the future was outstanding this year. Rask is still your No. 1 obviously, but barring injury or if things go awry I feel great knowing that Swayman is right there. He doesn't have postseason experience but he does have a calm demeanor to him. But again, the Bruins full expect Rask to go the distance.
"Obviously, a tough call with Jaro with his experience. He’s just played more down the stretch here, and some of that was out of circumstance. Tuukka got hurt.. Jaro went into COVID… So there’s a quarantine.. and then the goalie is a little tougher to get thrown back in there, so a little time to get back up to speed. I thought Swayman grabbed the ball and ran with it. That’s the decision right there. That could change as we go along, obviously, as Jaro gets more reps, but right now I think Swayman has done everything we’ve asked." - Bruce Cassidy
COVID 19 List: Ilya Samsonov
- By far the Capitals biggest weakness is in net. No more Braden Holtby to scare the Bruins. The Capitals are keeping it internal, but I'd be shocked if they didn't start Vitek Vanecek in net, who went 21-10-4 with a .908 SV% and a 2.69 GAA in 36 games this year.
- Craig Anderson will back up since rookie Ilya Samsonov remains on the COVID 19 list.
- The Capitals have a LETHAL power play clicking at 24.8%. It would be in the Bruins' best interest to play 5 on 5 as much as possible this series as the Bruins were the 3rd most penalized team in the league. Can't put Ovechkin and the Caps on the PP where they can really do damage. TJ Oshie leads all Capitals with 13 power play goals. That being said, the Bruins do boast the 3rd best PK in the league at 86.0%.
Caps went 9/30 on the PP vs. BOS in 8 games this year.
- On the flip side, the Bruins PP has been a bit of a mess as of late. Not as automatic as it has been in year's past, but still clicks at 21.9%. Which isn't too shabby. I think Nick Ritchie will have to make it difficult for the goaltender and just plant himself in front of the net. If the Bruins can figure out the man up it'll be huge, if not, Washington certainly has the advantage.
The addition of Taylor Hall has made the Bruins' top six incredibly lethal. The storylines are there, Zdeno Chara vs. his former team etc etc, but I think the Bruins are healthier.. and deeper in net. The Bruins go as far as Tuukka Rask goes, and he's going to need to be stellar against a really stout offensive team in the Washington Capitals (even if they are banged up). The Bruins will need to bring a strong forecheck and withstand a heavy team, but this is as good a roster as we've seen in a few years. B's should be fired up for the opportunity.
Bruins in 6.
The Bruins are favored in the series at -155 despite not having home ice advantage.
All odds are provided by the Barstool Sportsbook.
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Game 1 - Saturday, March 16th… 7:15 pm EST // NBC, SN, CBC
Game 2 - Monday, May 17th… 7:30 pm EST // NBCSN, SN, CBC
Game 3 - Wednesday, May 19th… 6:30 pm EST // NBCSN, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360
Game 4 - Friday, May 21st… 6:30 pm EST // NBCSN, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360
Game 5 (if needed) - Sunday, May 23rd… TBD // TBD
Game 6 (if needed) - Tuesday, May 25th… TBD // TBD
Game 7 (if needed) - Thursday, May 29th… TBD // TBD
Nate Dogg and I broke down everything you need to know in the series. Have a listen!
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AND NOW WE GO.
Sincere thanks to everyone who has followed and read along this regular season. Fired up for the playoffs. LFG.