Playoff Pregame #4: Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins

#7 Washington Capitals vs. #2 Boston Bruins
Bruins Lead Series 2-1
Location: Verizon Center
Time:
7:30 PM
TV: Local Coverage: Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic (HD) (Game on!), National Coverage: NBC Sports Network (HD)
Radio: 1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Series Schedule:
Game 1:  Apr 12, 2012 WSH@BOS, 0-1 L (OT)
Game 2:  Apr 14, 2012, WSH@BOS, 2-1 W (2 OT)
Game 3:  Apr 16, 2012, BOS@WSH, 3-4 L
Game 5: Apr 21, 2012, WSH@BOS 3:00PM
Game 6*: Apr 22, 2012, BOS@WSH, TBD
Game 7*: Apr 25, 2012, WSH@BOS, TBD
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals: D Joe Corvo (18 GP, 2010)
Former Bruins:  RW Mike Knuble (307 GP, 2000-04), D Dennis Wideman (256 GP, 2007-10)
Our Bloguin Partner: Days of Y’Orr

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Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals enter tonight’s game without their most important player, #1 center Nicklas Backstrom.  Backstrom was suspended by the NHL for a cross-check to the face of Bruins forward Rich Peverley.  While Backstrom’s suspension was warranted based on his offense, it points back to the inconsistent officiating that has been a major part of this series.  If the officials would take control of the games early on, then the hockey played between the whistles would be the most important part of this series, not the stuff after the whistles that draws penalties, usually on the Capitals far more than on the Bruins.  The Capitals either need to be more disciplined and not play into the Bruins’ hands by taking penalties or they need to be the bigger pests and beat the Bruins at their own game.

The Boston Bruins, on the other hand, are perfectly willing to keep gooning the series up if the officials let them.  It has already worked to their advantage, and they certainly have the pesky personnel for it.  The Bruins played a much more effective style of hockey on Monday night than they showed in either of the first two games.  The attacked the net more and won battles to loose pucks.  The Bruins are a very talented and deep hockey team that won’t go away easily, so the Capitals cannot afford any more mistakes in this series. 

Injury Report: Capitals’ G Tomas Vokoun (groin) is out.  G Michal Neuvirth (leg) is day-to-day. 
-For the Bruins, RW Nathan Horton (concussion), G Tuukka Rask (groin), and D Adam McQuaid (head) are out. 

Three Things To Watch For:

Lineup Changes:  Without Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals had to shuffle the lines a bit.  It helps the Caps are used to playing without him and that they played all four regular season games against the Bruins that way, and the Capitals can take comfort in knowing the Senators beat the Rangers last night without their fearless Swedish leader.  With the changes, Mathieu Perreault should be back between his old linemates Alex Semin and Jason Chimera, and it also means Mike Knuble gets back into the lineup.  On the back end, Jeff Schultz (-4) should finally be coming out of the lineup in favor of the recently-healthy John Erskine.  Erskine’s speed, such as it is, has returned after arthroscopic knee surgery and his nastiness should help the Capitals keep pace with the Bruins antics. 

Shorter Leash?:  Bruins forward Milan Lucic has been playing like an untamed beast for much of this series, and he was finally nailed for his share of penalties in game 3 because of it. Lucic is the spearhead of the Bruins’ efforts to rankle the Capitals and he is the epitome of their corps of wingers:  large-bodied, 2-way players who are difficult to play against and who like to get under opponents’ skin after the whistle.  Just because the referees have allow the Bruins to get away with all kinds of nonsense in the first three game, that doesn’t make it legal.  With the recent spate of suspensions and overly violent play in these playoffs, the referees should shorten the leash on the Bruins’ animals, making for a more even game and one that is decided when the clock is ticking. 

The Holtby Factor:  After being the story of the series in the first two games, Braden Holtby was neutralized in Game 3.  Where the Capitals had been so stingy and hard-working in the first two games, the Bruins scored three goals on defensive breakdowns by the Capitals at Verizon Center Monday.  Holtby, like any goalie, can only be expected to do so much alone, which is how the Caps left him on many plays.  He is a solid goalie at stopping the first shot, so the Capitals defenders must continue to beat the Bruins to rebounds and clear the puck out of danger.  The Caps also need to stay with their defensive assignments and not let Bruins players alone in front of the cage.  Holtby’s confidence was rattled in game 3, but it could be crushed if the Caps hang him out to dry again. 

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