The Boston Bruins are coming off of a nice run to end the season after a rather up-and-down campaign overall as defending Stanley Cup champions. On the flip side, the Washington Capitals came off of a disappointing end to last season with a disappointing regular season, stumbling into the seventh seed. With the injuries on the Caps’ side and the B’s only getting healthier, it seems even more plausible to quickly pick the Bruins, but with the Caps appearing to be remnants of the team they could have been this year, it becomes less apparent who the winner may be.
Washington spent a good chunk of their run to make the playoffs without Nicklas Backstrom. With him back in the lineup, it gives a little more flexibility with other forwards and fills one of the two major holes at top-six center. Alex Ovechkin has been playing at Ovechkin-like level toward the end of the season, so the Caps will be looking for that to continue. Secondary scoring has been spotty lately, coming from many different sources – which may be a good or bad thing.
Boston, on the other hand, has production from up and down the lineup. The Bruins, as a result, receive an edge in offense because despite missing Nathan Horton, the B’s have more depth in scoring, which extends from Milan Lucic and David Krejci all the way down their fourth line.
The Caps have more potential to use their defense to bolster their offense a bit. While Mike Green hasn’t played like the quarterbacking blueliner that the Caps felt they missed so badly during his time out with injury, he could help provide a little depth in scoring for Washington that won’t face as harsh of a shutdown task as the forwards will. Also see Dennis Wideman for such help. However, the Capitals have been rather suspect on the blueline and, as a result, rely more on solid goaltending to get them through the night.
The Bruins don’t have as much offensive upside this season on defense aside from Zdeno Chara, so they will have to rely mostly on their own forwards. However, Boston has more shutdown pairings than Washington does, which give them the advantage in holding back the Caps’ scorers when that time comes. Not to mention, Boston gave up the fifth fewest amount of goals overall.
Edge: Bruins. Leading the NHL in goal differential, their minimal production from the defense won’t be an issue.
Both teams are pretty middle of the pack in terms of overall power play and penalty killing stats. Boston did a great job last year of winning it all despite a horrendous power play. Yet, for Washington, it might not be that simple for them to get away with subpar special teams. Because the Caps will need their stars to be on to win this series because they lack the depth the Bruins have, their play with the man advantage will be crucial for them versus Boston. The Capitals are certainly capable of game-changing special teams, and it may be their key to getting out of the first round on an upset.
The Caps have not had much luck through their entire system with timing on injuries, mainly in net. With both Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth sidelined, the Caps are once again going into the playoffs with a young goaltender, this time in the feisty Braden Holtby. Holtby has put up a .922 save percentage and a 2.49 goals-against average with the Caps, most of that coming in the crucial last part of the season. It is possible that the other two goalies will return for the postseason, but to start, they'll need to trust Holtby.
The Bruins’ injury situation isn’t so hard on the goaltending, as the injury to "backup" Tuukka Rask occurred much earlier in the season. As a result, Boston has had to rely on Tim Thomas for heavy duty for another season. While Thomas struggled, he found a way to pull it together by the end of the year to help the B’s go on a solid run to the finish line.
Edge: Bruins. Thomas finding his groove at the end of the year with the team is huge for Boston.
CAPITALS WILL WIN IF ... they out-match Boston. They have beaten the Bruins three times in the regular season, and seem to have gotten in their heads at times. In those games, the matchups worked favorably to shutdown the B’s top scorers while allowing them to play their own game.
BRUINS WILL WIN IF ... they play disciplined hockey. The Caps can hurt the Bruins if their power play clicks and gets their top players going without the pressure of matchups. Thus, it would work in Boston’s favor to stay out the box. Not only in penalty stats, but also it would be best for the B’s to just not get too caught up in trying to repeat. Taking it one game at a time keeps them focused and not so arrogant or loose that they forget to take out the Caps.