WILMINGTON, Mass. — At first glance, the Bruins appear to have drawn a tougher start to their quest to retain the Cup after a wild final day of the regular season saw the Capitals and Senators swap spots at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoffs seedings.
The Bruins now find themselves on a collision course with the Caps, who won three of the four meetings between the clubs this season, instead of Ottawa, which managed just one win in six games against Boston.
But should any stock be put into those regular-season results? Not if recent history is any indication.
Last year, the Bruins had a losing record against Montreal at 2-3-1 but managed to beat the Habs in the opening round, though that was a similarly tight seven-game series. In 2010, a 2-1-1 record against the Flyers didn't help Boston when the Bruins couldn't put away Philadelphia after going up 3-0 in that second-round series. The year before that, Boston's season ended against Carolina despite a 4-0-0 record against the Hurricanes in the regular season, while in 2008 the Bruins didn't win once in eight regular-season meetings with Montreal and still pushed the Canadiens to seven games.
The knowledge that they have beaten the Bruins three times this season, including twice in Boston, may help the Caps a bit psychologically, but they also aren't reading too much into it.
"It gives you confidence," Washington coach Dale Hunter said Monday, "but it's a different season."
Those meetings aren't in the distant past, though. Unlike last year, when the Bruins faced Washington three times in their first 10 games of the season and played them for the final time a week before Christmas, this season Boston didn't go up against the Capitals for the first time until Jan. 24, with the final three meetings coming on Feb. 5, March 10 and March 29.
The Bruins may not have liked the results of most of those games, but it should be beneficial in preparing for Thursday's opener to have gone against Washington so recently.
"It did help that we played them late in the year, so now they're a little fresher in the mind," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "It's better. We know their tendencies. They know ours. We've come to know how to play against each other, so it should be a good series."
Fellow defenseman Andrew Ference confirmed that there would be plenty of familiarity between the clubs because of the late-season meetings, but he doubted how much impact that would have on either team's performance.
"I don't know if it makes a difference," Ference said. "Everyone's got video and studies the last games. So there's some familiarity, but what they're going to bring on the ice is the only thing that's really going to matter for that game. It doesn’t really matter what happened in the previous games or the matchups or anything like that. Maybe it helps for familiarity a bit, but it doesn't really have a whole lot of bearing for what's going to happen in the future."
Every little bit helps, though. And when it comes to the Bruins reviewing their tapes against Washington, they'll mostly be used as a blueprint for what not to do in the upcoming series.
"No matter what you always do your pre-scouts and you do everything else, but it's always nice to see your team play against them," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "They're a team that is very capable of playing solid, two-way hockey. They've got their guys scoring, and they've done a good job of defending as well. They never got enough credit for how good their defensive game has gotten over the year. They've been a lot better at that.
"As we all know, they gave us some tough games," Julien continued. "Maybe at times we weren't at our best. I know the first game in Washington we didn't have a very good game there, but lately the games we've played against have been tight. They've been close, and they've been well-played."
There was also some nastiness. In the final meeting, Washington forward Jason Chimera was given a charging major and a game misconduct for a hit on Adam McQuaid, who remains out from the effects of that collision, which included a cut around his eye that required 18 stitches to close.
The stakes are too high for seeking retribution, but both sides still expect an intense and physical series.
"They play hard," Hunter said. "They've got a tradition there. We know the Boston Bruins. They're a hard-working team, and they're well-coached."
The Bruins were likewise avoiding any bulletin-board material, heaping praise on their first-round opponent despite the fact that the Capitals come in as the seventh seed after several seasons near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
"They're still a great team," Boychuk said. "They're dangerous no matter what. They've got a couple of the top players in the world. They're one of the elite teams in the league from our point of view. Just because they're in seventh doesn't mean they're seventh-best.
"All that stuff is washed away now. Everybody 's at zero. It's a new season and they've proven they're one of the top teams of the league. And there's a reason for that. They've got good players. It's going to be a good test for both teams."
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