Caps invade Boston, try to derail defending champs
The Washington Capitals clinched a spot in the 2012 playoffs in game 81 of 82. In contrast, the Boston Bruins had been penciled in the playoffs since about game 10. Oh by the way, they're also the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Leading the Capitals against the champs is of, course, a 22-year-old netminder with zero playoff experience in Braden Holtby. But hey, Michal Neuvirth had the same amount of playoff experience when the Caps dispatched the New York Rangers in the first-round of the playoffs last year, so there's that.
Braden Holtby will make his first playoff start in the NHL in game one on Thursday at Boston.
There's also this: the Caps are playing with house money. With such a disappointing season in D.C., the pundits have the Caps being freight-trained by the Bruins (just 3 of 16 NHL.com experts have the Caps winning the series). A baby-faced goalie and a supposedly average team against a Bruins powerhouse equals a lopsided series in most peoples eyes.
Not in mine. The Capitals' most important player, Nicklas Backstrom, yes not Alex Ovechkin, has had a few more games under his belt since coming back from his concussion and finally looks like himself (a goal and an assist in the reg. season finale). Ovechkin is playing with the tenacity and drive that he played with two years ago before being suspended by the league twice, and Mike Green is creating chances on the powerplay in recent weeks. Brooks Laich made a playoff guarantee and then backed it up, showing that this team still thinks there is something to play for despite the dismal regular season.
That being said, the Bruins are good. They finished the regular season with five players at the top of the league's plus/minus ranks with Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly all above a plus-31. Impressive. That guy in goal isn't bad either, as Tim Thomas had a sparkling .940 SV % and a lights-out 1.98 GAA in last year's Cup run. They also finished the year with a league-best plus-67 goal differential.
With all that said, the Bruins can be beaten. They finished the regular season with 102 points, which was tied with New Jersey for fourth in the East despite their No. 2 seed for winning the Northeast. The Bruins, despite scoring 3.3 goals per game, were just 15th in the league on the powerplay at 17%. Their 83.5% penalty kill rate was 11th in the league, which tells me that the Bruins are an impressive five-on-five team, which the Capitals also happen to thrive (18th PP, 21 PK).
Washington took three of four meetings between the two teams this season. In the first meeting in January, the Caps won 5-3 at Verizon Center, but the Bruins took a 4-1 decision in D.C. just a month later. The Caps won both contests in March in Boston with a 4-3 win and a 3-2 in OT win. While all the games were close, the Caps showed the ability to hang with the Bruins five-on-five, where the Bruins clearly excel (holding a 1.31 goals for advantage during 5v5 play).
The Caps will need all hands on deck to pull the upset. Alex Ovechkin will need to score, Nicklas Backstrom will need to play solid two-way hockey and whoever is in goal needs to, at the very least, keep the Caps in every game. Secondary scoring will also key for the Caps, as Ovechkin will draw hulking Zdeno Chara almost every shift. That means that Alex Semin, Marcus Johansson and even Mike Green will need to provide secondary scoring if the Caps want any shot at seeing the second round.
Game 1 starters:
Boston- Tim Thomas (26-17-2, 2.06 GAA .935 SV % career playoffs)
Washington- Braden Holtby (14-4-3, 2.02 .929 SV % NHL career)