May 15 vs. Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena, Game 1
Time: 7:15 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 99.1 FM
Boston Bruins 33-16-7
Washington Capitals 36-15-5
The Caps are set to embark upon what they hope will be a lengthy, thrilling and prosperous Stanley Cup playoff run starting on Saturday night when they host the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the first-round series between the two East Division clubs.
Video: Caps 365 | May 14
After a 56-game regular season, only four points separated Washington and Boston in the East Division standings, and only six points separated the four playoff entrants from the East. The Caps and Bruins are fairly evenly matched and they're similar in several ways. Both teams played strong hockey down the stretch of the season as Washington won 11 of its last 16 (11-4-1) while the Bruins finished with a dozen wins in their last 17 games (12-4-1).
"It's going to be a great matchup," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "They're obviously a great team and have been for a number of years now. We've played them hard it seems like every year, and certainly this year was a grind against them. I wouldn't expect anything less throughout this series."
"It's going to be a really hard series," says Caps center Nic Dowd. "This is a really good hockey team. They play their systems really well, they're a smart team they have high end players. They're built a lot like we are, in the fact that all their lines can play really good hockey and then they have elite players that are elite players in the NHL. Every game is going to be an absolute war, and it's going to be a physical game. It's going to be a fast game, and special teams is going to play a big part, too."
Video: Nic Dowd | May 14
While Boston enters the playoffs as healthy as it has been all season, the Caps are missing some key cogs. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov and center Evgeny Kuznetsov are both on the League's "unavailable due to COVID-19 protocol list." Right wing T.J. Oshie suffered a lower body injury last weekend and hasn't played or fully practiced since. And defenseman Michal Kempny missed the entire regular season with an Achilles' injury. With the exception of Samsonov, three of those four players were key components of Washington's 2018 Stanley Cup championship team.
Washington has been without key players at various stages of the season, and it has mostly found ways to win in their absence. The Caps went 7-2-2 in the 11 games in which captain Alex Ovechkin was unavailable for duty, and they were a perfect 7-0-0 in the seven games Tom Wilson missed in March because of a League suspension.
Video: Peter Laviolette | May 14
"The injuries have clouded it a little bit," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "But I think the last 20-25 games, the game that we've been playing on the ice - based on everything that you see when you watch the game and the data that comes out after the game - you're looking at scoring chances, and you're looking at zone time, and you're looking at special teams, there are a lot of things that we really like in the last 20-25 games. They haven't always been wins, but the game I think gives you the opportunity to win. I think we're comfortable and confident with that, and hopefully the health can go along with it."
Down the stretch, the Caps played three games in which they had fewer than 18 skaters, dressing only 11 forwards for each game. In each instance, they ended the game with fewer than 11 forwards, and still managed to win all three of those contests.
"I think we all remember what we've gone through this season and what adversity we have faced," says Caps center Lars Eller. "We've had some challenges, whether it's being down guys or playing with three lines at times - or less - and still being able to win those games. I think that builds character in the room, and you can't underestimate that."
On the night of April 11 in Boston, the Caps put an 8-1 beating on a weary Bruins team that was playing for the second time in as many nights and the fifth time in seven nights. As the Caps were preparing to take off and head home from Boston's Logan Airport, they learned the Bruins had made a pair of deals in the aftermath of that Sunday night loss to the Caps, less than 24 hours ahead of the NHL's trade deadline.
Boston acquired forwards Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from the Buffalo Sabres and obtained blueliner Mike Reilly from Ottawa. All three players have had a positive impact on the Bruins' lineup since their arrival.
Hall was the most sought-after player in last fall's free agency market, but he was a disappointment after signing a one-year deal in Buffalo, posting just two goals and 19 points in 37 games with the Sabres. Since coming to the B's, he has tallied eight goals and registered 14 points in 16 games.
Video: Brenden Dillon | May 14
Also obtained in the Hall trade with the Sabres, Lazar provides depth in the bottom six. Since coming to Boston, Reilly has averaged over 21 minutes a night while contributing eight assists in 15 games. Mainly because of a spate of injuries throughout the season, the Bruins have deployed 13 different defensemen this season. Even with virtually all of those defenders now available for duty, Reilly figures to slot in Boston's top four on the blueline, partnered with Brandon Carlo.
The Caps and Bruins have had some time to rest and some time to prepare for their upcoming series, and everyone seems to be champing at the bit and ready to get this best-of-seven set underway.
"All in all, guys are in a good place; they're ready to go," says Boston coach Bruce Cassidy of his team. "They seem like they're ready to go, healthy, no injuries in practice.
"To sum it up, we're in a good place right now in terms of how the week went, and let's see where we're at. Obviously [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."