The 33-16-7 Bruins go up against the 36-15-5 Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs starting May 15 at 7:15 p.m.

TV Schedule:

Game 1 Saturday, May 15 7:15 p.m. at WSH NBC
Game 2 Monday, May 17 7:30 p.m. at WSH NBCSN
Game 3 Wednesday, May 19 6:30 p.m. at BOS NBCSN
Game 4 Friday, May 21 6:30 p.m. at BOS NBCSN
Game 5* Sunday, May 23 TBD at WSH TBD
Game 6* Tuesday, May 25 TBD at BOS TBD
Game 7* Thursday, May 27 TBD at WSH TBD
*If necessary

 

Preview:

A big story of this game has to be Zdeno Chara’s return to TD Garden. The 14-year Bruins captain left the team this offseason when he signed with the Capitals on a one-year $795,000 deal. Chara, 43, hasn’t quite been the player he once was in the 2000s and early 2010s, but this is sure to be a game that’s important to both Chara and the team that let him go.

Bruins:

The Bruins might also have some bad blood for Tom Wilson. Wilson got in some hot water with NHL fans after a battle with Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin that led to no suspension. Another similar incident with Wilson happened in March when he illegally hit Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo up against the boards leading to a concussion.

Wilson was suspended seven games for causing the head injury to Carlo and it took Carlo almost a whole month to return to action. There should be some animosity between Carlo and Wilson, who haven’t seen each other since the devastating hit to Carlo’s head in March.

Another important factor in this game will be the key players acquired from each team at the trade deadline. Taylor Hall, acquired by Boston on April 12, has eight goals and 14 points in 16 games played for the Bruins. Anthony Mantha, the longtime Red Wing acquired on the same day, has four goals and eight points in 14 games played.

At the time, many believed Mantha to be the better acquisition because he netted 11 goals for Detroit and Hall had a measly two in Buffalo. But the trade for Hall proved to be the right move for Don Sweeney.

On April 11, the day before the Hall trade, the Bruins looked dysfunctional, losing to the Capitals by a gut-wrenching score of 8-1. Sitting at 21-12-6, just four points ahead of the Rangers who were 19-16-6 at the time, it appeared as though their playoff hopes were hanging by a thread. Since then, the Bruins went 12-4-1 en route to moving up a spot in the standings of one of the most competitive divisions in hockey. The Capitals haven’t been slouching with the acquisition of Mantha, though, as they’ve gone 9-4-1 since then.

The question for this matchup is if the Capitals can stay healthy for this series. Right now, Washington has two notable forwards injured, Evgeny Kuznetsov and TJ Oshie. While Oshie seems to be trending in the right direction, labeled as day-to-day on May 13, the same can’t be said for Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov, one of the Capitals best forwards, was listed as out and won’t be in the lineup on for the first game of the series.

Having these two out not only affects their 5-on-5 scoring, but heavily affects their power play in a negative way. Oshie is second in the league in power play goals and is a key contributor to the third-best power play in the NHL. Kuznetsov also helps to keep their special teams dominant. He’s fifth on the team in power play assists despite missing 15 games.

The Bruins, on the other hand, have no notable injuries and maintain a top 10 powerplay. Along with that, they have the second-best penalty kill percentage in the league and scored the most shorthanded goals in the NHL this year.

Another wrinkle to this matchup will be how each offense matches up against one another. First off, the Bruins probably have the best top line in the NHL with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The line combined for 72 goals and 165 points.

Then, comes the rest of the team. The depth scoring for Boston has really heated up ever since acquiring Taylor Hall. Hall’s had a lot of fun playing with 34-year-old David Krejci, who’s assisted on seven out of Hall’s eight goals as a Bruin. Krejci also only had two goals and 23 points prior to playing with Hall, and he finished with eight goals and 44 points.

The duo will probably be playing with Craig Smith, who’s also a solid second line forward who recently scored a hat trick on May 1. Nick Ritchie is also an underrated player who scored 15 goals this year and can be a good depth forward.

The top line of the Capitals may not be up to par with the Bruins, but they do have some great, experienced players in Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. The two have a lot of chemistry together and combined for 39 goals and 95 points. The right wing spot will probably go to Mantha on that line since that was the case their last game of the regular season. Even so, this top line still isn’t better than Boston’s, so then comes the rest of the forwards.

Considering Oshie and Kuznetsov play most of the series, the Caps have a good amount of depth. Even without them, they still have an impressive number of forwards from Conor Sheary, Tom Wilson and Daniel Sprong. They even have an exceptional fourth line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway.

Next up is the defense. The Bruins allowed just under two and a half goals as a team this season and also allowed the second-fewest shots per game this year. So, the defense this year has been very consistent for Boston. Their best defenseman is Charlie McAvoy, a 23-year-old, who scored 30 points this year. Other solid defensemen on the team include Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo and Mike Reilly, but McAvoy is the anchor for this defensive unit.

Capitals:

For Washington, they allow almost three goals a game, roughly the league average. They’re also close to average in shots allowed per game, sitting at 11th in league rankings. Their defense is anchored by last year’s Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson. Carlson tends to be more of an offensive defenseman, but in being an alternate captain, he’s a great leader and player on this team. Some other reliable defensemen on this team are Dimitry Orlov, Brenden Dillon, Justin Schultz and the aforementioned Zdeno Chara.

Finally, there’s the goaltending. The Bruins have an established Vezina winner in Tuukka Rask. Unfortunately, Rask was injured for a stretch from late March until mid-April and the Bruins struggled without him. Fortunately, since his return, Rask has posted a 7-1 record, .923 save percentage and two shutouts.

Vitek Vanecek, the young starter for the Capitals, hasn’t been putting up those kinds of numbers lately. Since the trade deadline, Vanecek’s record is 4-3-1, his save percentage is an abysmal .886%, but he does have one shutout in that stretch.

On paper, the Bruins certainly look like the better team. They have a better top line, arguably better depth forward-wise, better defense and better goaltending. However, the Capitals do have Stanley Cup experience on their roster with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie, Wilson, Carlson and Orlov and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Prediction:

Bruins win series 4-2

Odds:

Money Line: 

Bruins -130 | Capitals +105

Point Spread:

Bruins -1.5 | Capitals +1.5

Over/Under:

5.5

 

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