Given the option, the Boston Bruins probably would have rather played the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the NHL playoffs instead of the Washington Capitals. The Bruins won five of six meetings with Ottawa — and have taken nine of the last 10 meetings overall — but they won just once in four tries against Washington this season.
But while the Bruins have owned the Sens, there is something to be said about their overall toughness, sandpaper and mental fortitude — all compliments that would not be given to the disappointing Capitals. The Caps barely made the cut for the playoffs and head into the postseason limping.
That leaves the Bruins with 9-1 odds from Bovada to win the Stanley Cup, and the Capitals just 28-1 odds.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been given the best chance to win it all, with 7-2 odds, and the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers are both favored at 11-2.
For the Capitals, the main goal this offseason was to upgrade the goaltending. Washington has seen plenty of underachieving playoff teams get over the hump with a veteran goaltender, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. They've also seen how the lack of a quality goaltender can torpedo a season.
The Capitals tried to get that quality keeper, but unfortunately, as the playoffs approach, they are in worse shape than last season.
In the offseason, Washington shipped away Semyon Varlamov to Colorado and signed veteran Tomas Vokoun to lead the way. Vokoun is now out for the rest of the season, as is backup Michal Neuvirth. That leaves the Capitals with Braden Holtby, who at 22 years old has started just 20 NHL games in the last two seasons.
This is now the fifth consecutive time the Capitals have entered the playoffs, and each time, goaltending has let them down.
The other noticeable difference with this Caps team compared to recent years is that they don't have home ice advantage. Last year, the Caps finished atop the East in that category, but this year, they barely qualified as a No. 7 seed. Washington would love to have more games at home after going 26-11-4 at the Verizon Center and just 16-21-4 on the road.
Those 16 road wins are the fewest of any team entering the playoffs (in either conference). At home, the Capitals averaged 2.80 goals a game and allowed 2.41, but on the road, they scored just 2.51 goals a game and allowed 3.10 — the most per-game average of any playoff team and the seventh-most in the NHL overall.
Conversely, the Bruins' 25 road wins are tied for the most in the East, and their goaltending with Tim Thomas rarely gets questioned — although he did look shaky at times this season. Even if a 2.64 post-All-Star break goals-against average looks higher than what one might expect from Thomas, the Caps would love to have him on their side.
Everyone knows Washington is a talented team offensively. With weapons like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, some experts will be eyeing a first-round upset here — especially given the Capitals' track record against Boston in the regular season.
But the reality is that Washington barely made the playoffs for a reason. It's no accident that they fired their head coach Bruce Boudreau this season and may fire interim leader Dale Hunter if they exit quickly. It's no coincidence that they've been called quitters and that their own media has speculated about Ovechkin and performance-enhancing drugs. This team has issues.
The one cure for any of those issues is winning and the confidence it brings, but as long as Boston doesn't give the Capitals that glimmer of hope, their edge in the goaltending department and their home ice advantage should propel them to the second round.
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