"What they'd be able to watch studying us on film is the same that Zee could tell them anyway. I don't know if there's a cheat sheet or anything," said Charlie McAvoy. "We've played them so many times this year. It's always fun to line up against Zee. Obviously, we have a special bond, but this is the Bruins vs. the Capitals."
That it is. And it's a matchup that in most years would likely come much later in the postseason. But the current format for this most unconventional campaign dictates that the two heavyweights must do battle in the opening round beginning with Game 1 on Saturday night at Capital One Arena.
"It's no secret that Washington's a team that has high energy, plays physical, has got high-end talent and is very deep throughout the lineup," said Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron. "For us, it's about what we can bring against that. I think we kind of have some of the same attributes where we can play that heavy game, but also, we play a high-energy fast game.
"It's gonna be playoff hockey. That's what we expect and that's what we're looking forward to."
The start of the first round also marks a return to some level of normality after last summer's postseason occurred in a bubble scenario in Toronto. With the COVID-19 pandemic beginning to weaken its grip, the playoffs - at least in the United States - will look far more like they have in the past, especially with many arenas continuing to increase capacity limits. Both Boston and Washington will allow up to 25% capacity.
"It does feel a lot more normal or like it used to be in years past," said Bergeron, who ranks second behind Chara in Bruins history with 149 career postseason games on his resume, one behind his longtime teammate. "The exception might be the attendance but still just [on Monday] going back to 25 percent at home I felt the difference. It was great, was great to have. I thought it was perfect timing before playoffs. Traveling, two games on the road, two games back at home and then one, one, one. It's back to regular playoffs. We're looking forward to that."
Here's a closer look at the first-round matchup between the Bruins and Capitals:
All Lined Up
Here's how the Bruins are expected to line up on Saturday night:
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall - David Krejci - Craig Smith
Nick Ritchie - Sean Kuraly - Charlie Coyle
Jake DeBrusk - Curtis Lazar - Chris Wagner
Matt Grzelcyk - Charlie McAvoy
Mike Reilly - Brandon Carlo
Jeremy Lauzon - Kevan Miller
The Bruins enter the postseason as healthy as they have been all season long with Charlie Coyle (upper-body) and Kevan Miller (maintenance, missed Friday's practice) both expected to be in the lineup for Game 1. Ondrej Kase (suffered an upper-body injury in his return on Monday night) and Jakub Zboril (left Tuesday's game in D.C. with an upper-body injury) will be unavailable for the start of the series.
"All in all, guys are in a good place. I think they're ready to go," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "They seem ready to go. Healthy, no injuries in practice…I think we're in a good place right now in terms of how the week went, and let's see where we're at. [Saturday night] will be the biggest story, and we're ready to go and see where we're at. That's a bit of an unknown, but I like what I've seen this week."
Hall, who has helped to transform Boston's top six with his blend of speed, skill, and power, has just 14 playoff games on his resume, but is eyeing a lengthy run during his first postseason experience in Black & Gold.
"Every team in the playoffs has a chance. We're no different," said Hall. "Obviously, I feel like it's a pretty legitimate shot. You don't have these opportunities every year. You can't take it for granted that you're gonna be in the playoffs every year.
"I'm excited. It's a great group of guys that we have and a lot of skill, a lot of leadership, and a lot of experience. I'm really looking forward to it…we're all here to win a Stanley Cup."
Video: Bruins forward Hall talks upcoming playoffs
Under the direction of coach Peter Laviolette, the Capitals finished second in the East Division, posting a 36-15-5 record with 77 points, tied with the division champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Washington is paced, as always, by captain Alex Ovechkin, who led the club with 24 goals in 45 games. The Caps also received plenty of offensive pop from scoring leader Nicklas Backstrom (53 points), blue liner John Carlson (44 points), and wingers T.J. Oshie (43 points) and Tom Wilson (33 points).
The Capitals finished fifth in the league in scoring (3.36 goals per game), boosted by their high-octane power play, which also ranked fifth at 84%. Boston's penalty kill should be a strong adversary, however, having finished second in the NHL this season at 86%.
"You never want to be undisciplined, especially in the playoffs," said McAvoy. "That doesn't really change. It's not really like anything would change. No one ever wants to be in the penalty box, no one ever wants to take stupid penalties. Having the onus on playing smart, no retaliatory stuff or unnecessary stuff.
"But obviously that's the game, stuff's gonna happen. We're gonna get penalties, but I know we have a lot of belief in our kill. I think we're up there as far as penalty kills go in the league. We trust that part of our game and we work really hard at it."
Six-foot-5 winger Anthony Mantha, acquired at the trade deadline from the Detroit Red Wings for Jakub Vrana, had four goals and four assists in 14 games and brought even more brawn and beef to an already heavy lineup. Wilson leads the way in that department, a fact that the Bruins know all too well after his hit on Brandon Carlo in March led to a seven-game suspension and left the B's blue liner with a concussion.
"He's not flying under the radar from our perspective, everyone knows what kind of player he is," Bruins president Cam Neely said of Wilson, who clashed with Trent Frederic all season and also dropped the gloves with Jarred Tinordi after the hit on Carlo. "He plays hard and he'll take the body. We have to expect that, I don't think that's going to change. We also need to focus on how we need to play and what we need to do to be successful. We have to be smart. More importantly, we've got to be careful with their power play. We've got to try to stay out of the box as much as possible."
Carlo, who missed nearly a month following the hit, is looking forward to a hard-hitting series.
"I think that feeds into the hands of our defensemen, as well," said Carlo. "We have some stable guys back there. I think the energy of the game, the pace of the game is brought up with playing a physical game. Personally, I enjoy it. I think we all do in this room. It makes for a fun series; it makes for a hard series. But this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You want it to be that way."
While the series will, no doubt, be a punishing one on both sides, Cassidy noted that his team must also be cognizant of how well Washington can create offense with their pace and speed.
"You have to play the pace against Washington, you have to play behind their D, force their forwards to defend in their own end," said Cassidy. "They've got a lot of skilled guys that want to get going. That means having the puck and getting pucks back. A lot of it is puck possession, obviously. When you have the puck, you're not physical in terms of dictating the physicality. You're just strong on it, using your skill and speed.
"So that's one thing we have to do and not get away from it, get caught up in matching them hit-for-hit. When hits are there, you've got to take them, you've got to show that, 'Hey, we're going to wear you down as the series goes along as well. But hopefully you're also doing it with footspeed, tiring them down and chasing them around as well."
On the back end, the Caps added Chara's experience and size during the offseason to join a defense corps already featuring Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Brenden Dillon, Nick Jensen, and Justin Schultz. Chara certainly helped Washington's penalty kill, which finished fifth in the league at 84%. Washington was 17th in goals against at 2.88 per game.
Projected Washington lineup:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Anthony Mantha
Conor Sheary - Lars Eller - Tom Wilson
Daniel Sprong - Michael Raffl - Daniel Carr
Carl Hagelin - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Dmitry Orlov - John Carlson
Brenden Dillon - Justin Schultz
Zdeno Chara - Nick Jensen
Oshie is dealing with a lower-body injury but has been practicing, while fellow winger Evgeny Kuznetsov and goalie Ilya Samsonov remain in COVID-19 protocols. Michal Kempny is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
With Samsonov's status in question, the Bruins are preparing for Vanecek to be between the pipes to start the series.
"If it's not him then we have scouting reports ready that we'll talk about, deficiencies and strengths and weaknesses of that particular goalie," said Cassidy. "That's who we're planning on, and I guess if it changes, our guys have seen Anderson over the years…there is familiarity with whoever goes in there, for the most part, but we're planning on the guy who's played the most for them this year."
Video: Cassidy gives injury updates after practice
The Bruins and Capitals met eight times during the regular season with Boston holding a 4-2-2 edge in the season series.
January 30 at Washington - Washington 4, Boston 3 (OT)
February 1 at Washington - Washington 3, Boston 5
March 3 at Boston - Washington 2, Boston 1 (SO)
March 5 at Boston - Washington 1, Boston 5
April 8 at Washington - Washington 2, Boston 4
April 11 at Boston - Washington 8, Boston 1
April 18 at Boston - Washington 3, Boston 6
May 11 at Washington - Washington 2, Boston 1
Marchand led the Bruins with 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in seven games against the Caps this season with Bergeron (3-6-9) and Pastrnak (3-5-8) not far behind. Rask posted a 1-0-2 record against Washington with a 2.59 goals against average and .905 save percentage.
Backstrom was the Caps' leading scorer against Boston with nine points in eight games, while Oshie had a team-high five goals. In goal, Vanecek posted a 4-3-0 record with a 2.86 goals against average and .872 save percentage in seven games vs. the B's.
Video: Marchand records four points, Bruins defeat Capitals
The Bruins are 1-2 in three previous postseason series against the Capitals, with Boston holding a 9-8 edge over 17 games.
2012 Eastern Conference First Round - Boston 3, Washington 4
1998 Eastern Conference First Round - Boston 2, Washington 4
1990 Prince of Wales Conference Final - Boston 4, Washington 0
Last Postseason Meeting
The last time these two teams met in the postseason - excluding last season's Round Robin matchup in Toronto - the Bruins' run as Stanley Cup champions came to an end. Joel Ward capped that 2012 first-round series with an overtime winner in Game 7 at TD Garden.
Four of the seven contests went to overtime, the most in a Bruins playoff series since the 1939 Stanley Cup semifinals against the New York Rangers. Chris Kelly (Game 1) and Tyler Seguin (Game 6) had the OT winners for Boston.
The 2012 first-round series between these teams also marked the first time that they have met in the playoffs when the victor of the series did not go on to the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins won their 1990 Prince of Wales Conference Final series and then lost to Edmonton in the 1990 Stanley Cup Final, while the Capitals won their 1998 first-round series and then lost to Detroit in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final.
The Boston-Washington 2012 first-round series was the first time in NHL history that every game in a six- or seven-game series was decided by one goal. That occurred again in Boston's 2017 first-round series vs. Ottawa.
Boston's 1-0 overtime victory vs. Washington in Game 1 on April 12, 2012, was their first playoff overtime win by that score since March 23, 1935 vs. Toronto.
Game 1: Saturday, May 15 at 7:15 p.m. ET (NBC, 98.5)
Game 2: Monday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET (NESN, NBCSN, 98.5)
Game 3: Wednesday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m. ET (NESN, NBCSN, 98.5)
Game 4: Friday, May 21 at 6:30 p.m. ET (NESN, NBCSN, 98.5)
Game 5: Sunday, May 23 at TBD (TBD, 98.5)*
Game 6: Tuesday, May 25 at TBD (TBD, 98.5)*
Game 7: Thursday, May 27 at TBD (TBD,98.5)*
Video: Brandon Carlo talks after practice on Friday