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Bruins try for third in a row vs. Caps

by David Kalan

BRUINS (7-2-0) at CAPITALS (8-4-0)


Last 10 -- Boston 7-2-0; Washington 7-3-0.

Season series -- The teams are already meeting for the third time this season. The Bruins hold a 2-0 edge in the season series after sweeping a home-and-home with the Caps last month. Boston outscored a typically potent Washington team by a 7-2 margin over those two games.

Big story -- With a month gone in the 2010-11 season, Boston and Washington have established themselves as members of the Eastern Conference elite, but the Capitals are in danger of ceding the season series -- and the mental edge Boston's domination would provide -- if they're unable to prevent a third early loss to the B's.

Team Scope:

Bruins -- Boston dropped its season opener to the Coyotes in Prague last month, but since then the B's can do no wrong. The Bruins have won seven of eight since losing their first game while outscoring their opponents by an impressive 27-8 margin. The offense has come from all corners, with even Brad Marchand scoring his first NHL goal in the Bruins' 5-2 win over Buffalo on Wednesday, but the consistency of Michael Ryder, who has 7 points in nine games this season, and Nathan Horton, who has 5 goals and 5 assists over the same span, has provided the impetus for one of the League's best starts.

But even the casual observer can see the biggest reason for Boston's strong start is the other-worldly play of goaltender Tim Thomas. The 2009 Vezina Trophy winner lost his job to rookie Tuukka Rask last season, but Thomas has regained the No. 1 job with the best start in team history -- he's 7-0-0 with a goals-against average of 0.72 and a .977 save percentage. It's hard to argue against Thomas as the best player in Boston right now -- if not the entire League.

Capitals -- Despite its trouble with Boston last month, Washington remains among the top teams in the League with a strong start of its own. The Capitals are tied for first in the Southeast with Tampa Bay with 16 points and have won four of their last five games. Washington's offense has been predictably productive with Alex Ovechkin putting up 7 points in the last four games, but his countryman Alex Semin has been nearly as dependable. Semin, whose goal in the third period forced overtime against Toronto on Wednesday, has 5 points in the Caps' last two games and 13 in 12 games overall.

If there is any cause for concern it might come on the defensive end, as the Capitals almost let a two-goal third-period lead slip away in its 5-4 shootout victory against the Leafs. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth gave up three goals in the final 20 minutes of regulation, but that performance may have been more the exception than the rule. Neuvirth has eight wins in 12 appearances this season, boasting a .920 save percentage and a very solid 2.31 GAA.

Who's hot -- Center Patrice Bergeron has done his share of the heavy lifting in Boston lately with five points in the past five games. ... In addition to Ovi and Semin, Mike Green has provided firepower from the blue line of late, tallying five points in Washington's last three games.

Injury report -- Boston recently lost defenseman Johnny Boychuk to a broken left arm, which will cost him at least the next three weeks. Marco Sturm (knee surgery) and Marc Savard (post-concussion symptoms) remain on injured reserve. … Washington may see the return of center Marcus Johansson, who has been out since Oct. 23 with a hip flexor. Tyler Sloan, who has also been battling a hip flexor, is listed as probable.

Stat pack -- Just how good has Tim Thomas been this season? The 2009 Vezina winner has more wins this season (7) than goals against (5).

Puck drop -- Obviously Stanley Cups and conference titles aren't won in November, but Friday's showdown could easily be a preview of a matchup we might see in May, and if Boston can improve their mark to 3-0-0 against the Caps, some in Washington's locker room may not be so comfortable if they run across the black and gold when the weather gets warmer. No other team has given the Capitals the same kind of trouble so far this season--two of their four losses have come at the hands of the Bruins.

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