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Defending champion Bruins meet Caps in first round

by Staff /


Seed: 2 • 49-29-4102Pts.


Seed: 7 • 42-32-892Pts.
The Bruins were not prepared for this matchup as Washington didn't even make the Stanley Cup Playoff until game No. 81 and only found their way to No. 7 seed because of a late-season swoon by the Ottawa Senators.

But, this should be an interesting series that features a contrast of styles.

The Bruins, the defending Cup champions, are built from the back out. Goalie Tim Thomas is the reigning Vezina and Conn  Smythe winner and captain Zdeno Chara anchors a punishing and stingy blue line. The Bruins can score goals by it is accomplished by committee.

The Caps, meanwhile, aren't even sure who their goalie will be because of injury problems. Washington's defense is not overly physical and can be a bit disorganized at times. It is a team that has never had trouble scoring, but does it via a star system, headlined by Alex Ovechkin.

Boston may have finished with 10 more points and seven more wins -- and a recent Cup victory -- but Washington won the season series with three victories in four outings. 
Once again the Bruins featured a balanced attack this season.

While power forward Milan Lucic didn’t match the 30 goals he scored last season, he still put up a more than respectable 26 goals.

Brad Marchand (28), Tyler Seguin (29), Chris Kelly (20) and David Krejci (23) all set new career highs for goals in a season. With that type of production from so many people -- six players exceeded 20 goals -- the Bruins were able to get by without the injured Nathan Horton.

Patrice Bergeron solidified his spot among the elite two-way forwards this season with 22 goals and 64 points. He should find himself among the three finalists for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward come June, as well. Bergeron, Seguin and Kelly were among the League’s top performers in plus/minus all season, each finishing with ratings of more than plus-30.

Kelly, Benoit Pouliot and deadline acquisition Brian Rolston emerged as solid sources of secondary scoring. And again this season, the fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton has been one of the best energy lines in the entire NHL.
Jason Chimera enjoyed a career season, reaching the 20-goal plateau and just missing out on the 40-point mark. Nicklas Backstrom has been fantastic when healthy and is back after a long, frustrating battle with a concussion.

Beyond that, there are a lot of guys up front for Washington who probably wish they had produced either a little more or a lot more this season.

Alex Ovechkin went on a scoring binge at the end of the season, but he still ended up with a severe decline in points, finishing with 38 goals and a team-leading 65 points. Alexander Semin has also played well of late, but is known for being particularly streaky in the postseason.

Guys like Joel Ward and Mike Knuble have had postseason success in the past, but have struggled to score -- and stay in the lineup -- this season.

Brooks Laich has been valuable with his versatility, while diminutive Mathieu Perreault had success in an increased role when Backstrom was injured.
Any defense corps that starts with a perennial Norris Trophy candidate like Zdeno Chara is going to be hard to handle. Chara should again pair with Dennis Seidenberg to log nearly 30 minutes a game and attempt to shut down the top lines of playoff opponents much in the same way that pair did in the run to the Cup last season.

Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk, when healthy, should again provide Boston with a solid second pair. Unlike last season, the Bruins boast experienced depth among their blue-line corps. Beyond their projected third pair of Adam McQuaid and Greg Zanon, Boston can also turn to Joe Corvo or Mike Mottau should injury or ineffectiveness necessitate a change to the lineup.
Mike Green was hurt for much of the season and was not the same when he returned. The former 70-point man had just seven points in 32 games this season.

John Carlson had a sophomore slump, especially in his own end, finishing with a minus-15 rating. Roman Hamrlik has been inconsistent and gained the most attention for being unhappy with the coach.

Jeff Schultz has been a healthy scratch more often than someone making $2.75 million would expect. Dennis Wideman has the offensive numbers (46 points) and ice time (23:54) that will earn him a large contract July 1, but he has been suspect at times in his own end. Karl Alzner has been the team’s most consistent defenseman, and rookie Dmitry Orlov has been a pleasant surprise since joining the team mid-season and becoming a fixture in the lineup.
While he didn’t match last season’s record-breaking numbers, reigning Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas still had an All-Star season. Although his workload expanded after an injury to to Tuukka Rask in early March, Thomas was able to grab some rest after the Bruins clinched the No. 2 seed.

Thomas finished this season with 35 wins, a 2.36 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

Should Rask not be available when the postseason opens, Anton Khudobin will serve as Thomas’ backup. Regardless of who’s sitting on the bench, the Bruins don’t even want to think about what would happen should Thomas go down.
Tomas Vokoun was signed at a discount rate July 2 and had a strong season when healthy. He has a groin injury now and his availability is in question.

Michal Neuvirth struggled as a backup but played better with more regular playing time. He has a lower-body injury and his availability is also in question.

That leaves Braden Holtby, whose performance dipped this season while biding his time in the American Hockey League. He’s only got 21 games of NHL experience, but he’s 14-4-3.

The Caps are used to inexperienced goalies at this time of year -- Semyon Varlamov had six NHL games on his resume before his first playoff start in 2008-09 and Neuvirth had 70 before Game 1 last season.

To a man, the Bruins players often point to one thing when asked about head coach Claude Julien’s biggest strength behind their bench: unflappability. From his ability to re-instill confidence in a team that squandered a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia in 2010 to how he kept his team focused last season when facing 2-0 deficits in two playoff series, including the Stanley Cup Final, Julien has time and again shown he’s never going to panic. That resonates with everyone in the dressing room.

Julien has also become adept at tweaking his lines when his offense or defense needs a boost, and also at matching his top defensive pair and/or top forward line against the best offensive players on his opponent's squad.

Dale Hunter has lots of playoff experience with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. He won an OHL title and Memorial Cup in 2004, but otherwise his postseason record is pretty spotty considering his regular-season success. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Capitals haven’t really performed better for Hunter than deposed boss Bruce Boudreau, but success at this time of year would change that in a hurry. 

Special Teams

The Bruins won the Stanley Cup last season without much of a power play. Their man-advantage showed up now and then, but for the most part was non-existent. They might be looking at attempting to duplicate that feat this postseason.

Despite offensive stalwarts like Seguin, Krejci and Chara, Boston’s power play was in the middle of the pack all season, finishing with a 17.2 efficiency rate. The power-play units also showed a propensity for lengthy goal droughts.

Ever since Julien’s second season, the Bruins’ penalty kill has been one of the best in the NHL. Bergeron, Marchand, Peverley, Kelly, Paille and Campbell form three great pairs that make life easier for Thomas. This season, Boston killed 83.5 percent of its man-disdvantage situations.

The Capitals aren’t likely to win many games on the strength of their special teams as Washington is in the bottom half of the League in both categories.

Not only has the power play not produced enough given the talent available, the Capitals are No. 27 in the League in extra-man opportunities and only three teams have yielded more than their 10 shorthanded goals allowed.

Series Changer

Milan Lucic, Boston -- The left winger was slowed by a broken toe during Boston’s 2011 Cup run, but he still produced five key goals and a dozen points while answering the bell for all 25 postseason games. He’s heading into the 2012 postseason mostly healthy and playing some of his best hockey, finishing with 61 points. While he didn’t match last season’s goal total, he’s still the Bruins’ biggest tone-setter with both his prowess around the net and his physicality that takes a toll mentally and physically on opponents.

Mike Green, Washington -- This has been a season to forget for Green. He’s missed time with multiple injuries after a great start, and since returning his production has disappeared. He can still be an impact player for the Capitals, both on offense and on the penalty kill, and an uptick in offense from him could make Washington a far more dangerous team.

What If ...

The Bruins will win if … Tim Thomas is his usual all-world self in goal and Boston’s balanced offense, led by some players with streaky tendencies, can grind out enough goals in support of the club’s stingy defense and goaltending.

Capitals will win if... They have all of their stars playing at an optimal level -- when Washington was a favorite in the past three seasons, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and Green were never playing well at the same time during the postseason. The situation in goal will receive a lot of attention, but a few strong weeks from that quartet of stars could help the Caps find previously unrealized postseason success.

Analysis by Matt Kalman and Corey Masisak

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