NHL Playoffs: Capitals Face Defending Champion Bruins

Joe LaTengo | Updated Apr 09, 2012

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Most observers expected the Boston Bruins would be facing the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs. Then the Sens lost three in a row, the Washington Capitals scored back-to-back victories and the Florida Panthers won their way into the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Now it’s Washington which draws the unenviable task of attempting to defeat the Stanley Cup champions in a best-of-seven series.

Boston went into the post-season with seven wins in their last 10 games, so they’ve got a lot of momentum. With 35 wins, a 2.36 goals-against average and five shutouts, goaltender Tim Thomas (who turns 38 years old next Sunday) is showing no signs of slowing down. The group of forwards they’ve had all season has performed well: Tyler Seguin has emerged as the team’s top-scoring forward with 67 points, followed by Patrice Bergeron (64 points), David Krejci (62) and Milan Lucic (61). As a group, the Bruins came second only to Pittsburgh in total goals scored (260) and were sixth-best in goals allowed (199).

The only significant piece they’re missing on offense is forward Nathan Horton, who is dealing with concussion issues and missed almost half the season (36 games). His return to action is being called a “long shot” by Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli.

Washington won the regular-season series against Boston three games to one, but the regular season has concluded. The Capitals need all hands on deck, and they don’t have the services of goaltender Tomas Vokoun. That’s really going to hurt them in this matchup, because the Czech netminder went 27-17-2 with a 2.51 goals-against average, and he’s the best of a mediocre bunch.

Vokoun has appeared in only 12 of the Caps’ 29 games since injuring his groin Feb. 4, and he aggravated the injury against the Bruins on Mar. 29. Michal Neuvirth substituted for Vokoun in that game, but he tweaked a leg last week and is questionable. However, Washington head coach Dale Hunter claims Neuvirth is “day to day”; for his team’s sake, he’d better hope that’s the case. If Neuvirth can’t play, that leaves the Capitals with youngster Braden Holtby and veteran Dany Sabourin, who hasn’t seen NHL action since 2009.

Two things need to happen for the Capitals to have a chance in this series. They need Alex Ovechkin to be as motivated (and more) as he has shown in the last few weeks. They also need Holtby to turn into the second coming of, well, Tim Thomas. If they have to put Sabourin in net, they might as well say goodnight.

The NHL futures betting has the Bruins as contenders to win the Eastern Conference, while the Capitals have longer odds. As with the Rangers-Senators series, Boston should be able to take care of Washington with little trouble. Bruins in 5, and it would be no surprise to see them sweep in four straight.

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