Thu Apr 12, 2012 Capitals Bruins 7:30 PM CBC, NBCSN, RDS2, NESN(HD)
Sat Apr 14, 2012 Capitals Bruins 3:00 PM CBC, NBC, RDS
Mon Apr 16, 2012 Bruins Capitals 7:30 PM CBC, NBCSN, RDS2, NESN(HD)
Thu Apr 19, 2012 Bruins Capitals 7:30 PM CBC, NBCSN, RDS, NESN(HD)
Sat Apr 21, 2012 Capitals Bruins 3:00 PM CBC, NBC, RDS
Sun Apr 22, 2012 Bruins Capitals TV/TIME: TBD
Wed Apr 25, 2012 Capitals Bruins TV/TIME: TBD
Would anyone have selected this as the first round playoff matchup to begin the 2011-12 season? I wouldn’t think so, given the Capitals’ dominance of the Southeast Division in recent years. But the season didn’t play out the way either of these teams thought it might.
Washington came out like gang busters right out of the gate, then things ran aground, they fired their coach, and it appeared as if they were ready to disappear from the playoff picture altogether. Then the team turned it around, and won four of five down the stretch and jumped into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
Boston, meanwhile, endured the predictable Stanley Cup hangover, then the Bruins tore through the middle part of the season before coming slightly unglued around the time net minder Tim Thomas went all “face book” political and snubbed the team’s visit to the White House. But in recent weeks the Bruins have quietly regained their form entering the playoffs, playing some of their best hockey of the season. That’s of course until the questions arise regarding his political stance, they are playing Washington!
This is a series about a Boston team that learned from its past playoff failures and figured out how to win in the postseason, while the Capitals are still a team that seems doomed to repeat those failures over and over.
While Thomas, for all his political meandering, has quieted most of the doubters by going on a 6-1-1 roll to close out the regular season. Even with the freak Tuukka Rask injury, Thomas should still be fairly well rested having appeared just twice in April. The backup is veteran Marty Turco in Rask’s absence.
If Thomas is able to replicate his heroics of last spring, the Bruins will be mighty tough to stop this post season. Bruins’ position is in stark contrast to the situation in which the Caps find themselves. With off season veteran free agent signing Thomas Vokoun out with a groin injury and last year’s playoff starter, Michal Neuvirth, on the mend after suffering a lower body injury himself, it looks like the Game 1 start will go to rookie Braden Holtby. Holtby has quite been solid in relief this season, going 4-2-1. Still, the 22-year-old has proved himself to be remarkably poised and confident in his brief exposure to NHL play. Many scouts believed at the end of last season, that Holtby was the best goalie within the Caps system.
When the Bruins are at their best, they are a relentless bunch, attacking from all four lines. While the personnel has changed somewhat, the team’s style and personality remains exactly the same, and to beat the Bruins, a team must be willing and capable of standing up to that kind of assault. However, losing Nathan Horton does make the Bruins lineup a lot less potent than last season.
Still Boston has scored six or more goals 13 times this season and are the league’s top-scoring team at five-on-five. They boast six 20-goal scorers, the most of any team in the league. They are 32-0 when leading after two periods and enjoy a plus-42 goal differential in the third period, ranking sixth in the league and third in the East behind the Rangers and Pittsburgh.
While over in the Capitals dressing room they have displayed an alarming lack of scoring depth for most of the season, so they’ll be at a disadvantage every third shift if they don’t get similar production.
If there is one wild card in this series, it is the return to action of Caps top center Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom was out of action with a concussion missing three months of action. However, he was able play in the Caps’ final four games of the regular season, where he picked up his first points in the finale game of the season, scoring a goal and an assist. Will he help boost Washington’s 18th-ranked power play? There is no question about it. He should be able to help the teams 20th ranked penalty kill, too. But what are the realistic expectations for a player who has missed so much time with such a serious injury? If you combine a healthy Backstrom with Alex Ovechkin might be the answer to take down the Stanley Cup champions this off season.
The Washington Capitals over the past four seasons have enter the post season with borne significant expectations. However, each year they’ve found a way to crumble under to those pressures. In 2008, they lost a Game 7 at home to Philadelphia, blew a 2-0 series lead to Pittsburgh in the second round in 2009, were ousted in the first round by eighth seed Montreal in 2010 and were swept by Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round a year ago.
Certainly top players like Mike Green, Backstrom and Ovechkin have not fared well under the spotlight of expectation in the playoffs. But they have entered each playoff season as the favorites. This season, they enter as the underdog, does removing the pressure of playoff expectations ease as they enter this years first round; I guess we will find out.
Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien will to try to get Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, on the ice as much as possible against the Caps’ top line of Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich. For all the criticism of the Caps’ captain this season, Ovechkin was able to finish fifth in the league with 38 goals, and scored 11 assists in his last 10 games. Chara will be a game changer for the Bruins on the back end. He logs 25 minutes a night and has seen his own offensive numbers rise this season. If the Caps’ big line can’t get going against Chara and company, this series could be over in a hurry.
There could hardly be a streakier player in the league than Semin. The gifted Caps winger has been on a tear recently, with 10 points in his past nine games. Playing alongside the recently recovered Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault, Semin gives the Caps the kind of scoring threat from the second line that will be crucial to any playoff success. However, the problem is that Semin’s history is to fade to black whenever the going gets tough come playoff time. If he can reverse that trend, the Caps’ chances of pulling off an upset go up exponentially. Otherwise look for Semin to find his way out of town this off season.
It’s been a breakout year for young stars Seguin and Marchand, who combined for 57 goals. Seguin, of course, was a healthy scratch to start the playoffs a year ago and then responded well when introduced into the lineup. Marchand had trouble controlling his emotions early in the postseason but was the best skater on the ice for the Bruins during the final. This season, Seguin led the Bruins in scoring, playing mostly with Bergeron and Marchand, becoming the youngest player to lead the B’s in scoring at just over 20 years of age. If they can keep their heads this spring, they will increase the odds of a repeat.
Three of the top four goalies in this series are expected to begin it with injuries, leaving last year’s playoff MVP, Tim Thomas, as the only veteran standing. That likely leaves Washington going with rookie Braden Holtby, who started just six games this season but has performed well at the NHL level. The Caps as a whole have been a team in disarray for most of the year and go in as heavy underdogs despite winning the season series. Can Ovechkin and Backstrom save them?
The Bruins have too much and the Caps don’t have enough, which leads us to conclude that the Bruins will move along.
Smyth: Bruins in 7.
Blais: Bruins in 7
Diceman: Capitals in 7
Pinder: Bruins in 4
Denstedt: Bruins in 7
Jameson: Bruins in 5
Donnelly: Bruins in 4.