For a two month stretch earlier this season the Boston Bruins looked as unbeatable as a team can look in the NHL, not only beating teams, but absolutely crushing them every single night. It was a pace that would have been impossible to sustain, and after cooling off for a bit after that, and looking like mortals for a while, they've started to pick up the pace again heading into the playoffs, winning nine of their past 12 games as they get set to defend their Stanley Cup title, starting with the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.
Before the season started this was probably a popular pick for an Eastern Conference finals series, as these were two of the Cup favorites heading into the regular season. Things didn't exactly go as planned for the Capitals as they struggled through a disappointing regular season, changing coaches, suffering a couple of major injuries (Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom) and having to scratch and fight all the way to the final week of the schedule just to secure a playoff berth.
And now, with playoff expectations probably as low as they've been around the Capitals over the past two or three years, they have to start their run against the defending champs.
BOS Offense vs. WAS Defense
The Bruins are known for having a great goaltending duo and a mountain of a defenseman in Zdeno Chara, but they can also score. A lot. They don't really have that one dominant point-producer in their lineup, but Pittsburgh was the only team to finish the regular season with more total goals than the Bruins (the Bruins led the league in goals during five-on-five play), while no other team in the league was able to produce six 20-goal scorers as the Bruins did, with Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Chris Kelly all reaching that mark. Nathan Horton could have been the seventh had he not missed half of the season, and as expected, he will not be available to them in the playoffs. Washington's defense hasn't been great, and second-year defenseman Karl Alzner and John Carlson, two of their top defensemen have had their share of struggles this season.
WAS Offense vs. BOS Defense
For a player that was often criticized for having a down year, Alex Ovechkin still finished the regular season fifth in the NHL in goals scored, and with Backstrom back in the lineup, helps create what should be one of the best top line duos in the league. But what else are we going to see from the Capitals? Ever since Dale Hunter took over behind the Washington bench the team seems to have become quite passive offensively, which probably isn't the best approach against a team like Boston (or any team in the playoffs, for that matter). They've improved down the stretch, but will it be enough?
The Bruins not only have one of the best defenseman in the NHL (Chara), they also have one of the league's best shutdown forwards and a player that should be a Selke Finalist (if not the winner) in Patrice Bergeron.
The series didn't even start yet and Tim Thomas has already received a question about the White House. Washington's only hope to have an edge in this area is if Thomas completely loses his mind before the series ends.
During the regular season there was a huge difference between the two teams during five-on-five play (the Bruins were plus-47 in the goal-scoring department at even strength. The Capitals were only a plus-two), but there wasn't much of a difference during special teams play.
Both power plays finished roughly the same, and while the Bruins penalty kill was a bit better, the Capitals actually allowed, by a very slim margin, fewer shots when down a man. Their edge in the penalty killing area simply goes back to having a better goaltender.
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