Boston currently leads the Capitals 2-1 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. A win in Game 4 on Thursday would give the Bruins a chance to close out the series on home ice in Game 5 at the Garden on Saturday. A loss Thursday guarantees a return trip for Game 6 on Sunday and puts Boston’s quest to repeat as Cup champions in early jeopardy.
The Bruins are expected to stick with the same lineup they've used in the first three games, with coach Claude Julien likely to stick with the line changes he introduced in Game 3. That keeps Patrice Bergeron up between Milan Lucic and Rich Peverley, while David Krejci is now with Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin.
Neither of those lines has produced a goal in the series, with the third line of Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston carrying the Bruins offense with a combined eight points and three of Boston's six goals in the first three games.
The fourth line has also chipped in a goal, while the other two goals came on 4-on-4 situations in Game 3 with Peverley and Zdeno Chara scoring. Peverley's goal and an assist by Bergeron are the only points scored by the Bruins top six this series, and both came with them skating with Kelly during 4-on-4s.
While the Bruins' lineup will remain intact, the Capitals are making several changes. The biggest wasn't up to them, as top playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom will have to sit out the game after receiving a one-game suspension for a match penalty after cross-checking Peverley in the face at the end of Game 3.
Mathieu Perreault will move up to Backstrom's spot centering Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin, while former Bruin Mike Knuble will return to the lineup on the fourth line after being a healthy scratch for the first three games of the series.
While losing Backstrom will be a big blow to the Capitals, the Bruins aren't taking anything for granted or changing their approach in Game 4 because of his absence.
"They're a very good team without him and our game plan doesn't change because our game plan wasn't based around Backstrom, it was based around the Washington Capitals,"Julien told reporters on site in Washington after the team's morning skate on Thursday. "So, we're going to continue to make adjustments because of what we want to make as adjustments, but not because of certain players."
The Capitals are also expected to make a change on defense, with rugged John Erskine replacing Jeff Schultz. Erskine has not played since Feb. 12 and dressed for just one of Washington's final 33 games of the regular season, but after things turned nasty in Game 3 with Backstrom's cross-check, Chimera's spear to Marchand's groin and Karl Alnzer taunting Lucic with a crybaby gesture after a late scrum, the Capitals obviously feel it wise to add some muscle to counter a much tougher, more physical Bruins roster.
Tim Thomas and youngster Braden Holtby are expected to be in net once again. Both have been strong this series but are each coming off some shaky moments in Game 3 when they combined to allow seven goals after just four were scored in the first two games despite playing parts of three overtime periods.
Tuukka Rask (abdominal/groin tear) increased his workload in the morning skate and is getting closer to being able to dress as Thomas' backup, but Julien told reporters in Washington that Rask wasn't ready quite yet and Anton Khudobin would remain Boston's backup for Game 4.
The Capitals sent young forward Cody Eakin back to their AHL affiliate in Hershey on Thursday, reducing their contingent of healthy scratches by one. Eakin did not dress for any of the first three games of the series.
Marc Joanette and Brian Pochmara will be the referees, with Brad Lazarowich and Jonny Murray working the lines.
Projected Bruins lines
Milan Lucic-Patrice Bergeron-Rich Peverley
Brad Marchand-David Krejci-Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot-Chris Kelly-Brian Rolston
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference-Johnny Boychuk
Greg Zanon-Joe Corvo
Scratches: Adam McQuaid (upper body), Nathan Horton (concussion), Tuukka Rask (groin), Mike Mottau, Jordan Caron
Projected Capitals lines
Alex Ovechkin-Brooks Laich-Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera- Mathieu Perreault-Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks-Jay Beagle-Troy Brouwer
Mike Knuble-Keith Aucoin-Joel Ward
Karl Alzner-John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik-Mike Green
John Erskine-Dennis Wideman
Scratches: Nicklas Backstrom (suspension), Jeff Halpern, Jeff Schultz, Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Vokoun (groin), Michal Neuvirth (leg)