As you know by now, the Washington Capitals have drawn the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the first round of this year’s playoffs. It’s a very tough matchup for the Capitals, both because of their continued playoff demons and because of the quality of the team across the rink from them. Read on for my take on this series, broken down piece by piece.
Forwards: The Bruins have a fearsome corps of forwards, constructed with playoff hockey in mind. No team in the NHL except Pittsburgh has the depth at center that the Bruins do, and their top line of Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron is smart and possesses the puck extremely well. They don’t have the star power that the Caps’ top line does, but it’s still a very good top unit. David Krejci, who led last year’s playoffs in goals, centers the second line with Jordan Caron and tough guy Milan Lucic. Rich Peverley, one of the most underrated acquisitions for any playoff team in recent memory, is a very good two-way forward who is fast, offensively skilled, and responsible defensively; he is the straw the stirs the Bruins’ drink. He drives their third line along with Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot, which gives you an idea of just how deep the Bruins are up front. Daniel Paille, Greg Campbell, and Shawn Thornton make up one of the NHL’s best fourth lines, too. Also of note is that the Bruins are the NHL’s best faceoff team, winning 54.5% of all draws, while the Caps are 17th, winning an even 50%. Washington has firepower, namely Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin, but Boston’s three scoring lines and crazy depth give them the clear advantage here.
Defense: Led by Zdeno Chara, the Bruins have a big, strong, mean group of defensemen that block shots and control the space in front of their net very well. Chara, their captain is their only real stud, but he’s a matchup nightmare and arguably the best defenseman in the NHL. Dennis Seidenberg is also a very solid two way guy. Other than Joe Corvo, who has been a healthy scratch lately anyway, the Bruins don’t have any other puck moving defensemen; Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, and Greg Zanon all shore up the fort as stay at home players. As you know, the Capitals have some excellent puck movers in their defense, including Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, and Dennis Wideman. However, they haven’t been producing lately, and I worry about their ability to control Boston’s fast forwards for an entire series. Karl Alzner is their best stay at home defenseman, and he’s better than Seidenberg on that front but nowhere near as good as Chara. Nobody is, really. I give the Bruins a slight edge here because of Chara and their defensive defensemen.
Goaltending: On one side, you have a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner, and the holder of the modern day record for save percentage in a season, Tim Thomas. On the other, as far as we know, you have Braden Holtby, he who has 21 total games of NHL experience. Holtby was very good in the season finale, but, I, uh…yeah. The Boston Bruins hold the firm advantage here.
Coaching: Claude Julien, the Bruins coach, is one of the very best the NHL has to offer. He has won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, has a Stanley Cup ring, and it was his genius that helped the Bruins crack Guy Boucher and the Lightning’s maddening 1-3-1 forecheck in last year’s Eastern Conference Final. He’s experienced, smart, and knows how to get the best of his players. Behind the Caps’ bench, you have a rookie coach who was in the Ontario Hockey League before this season and is still having trouble getting his players to adapt to his system. I’m going to make it four out of four and give the Bruins the edge here by a significant margin.
This is a very tough matchup for the Capitals, and they know it. The Bruins are big, strong, deep, and they want to repeat badly. It’s going to be a fun series, but it’s also going to be very, very tough on the Caps, despite their success against the Bruins in the regular season this year.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who is credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.