The Boston Bruins have played more than 96 percent of their regular-season games, and while they don’t yet know their first-round playoff opponent, it’s a very short list of options.
The Bruins also know no matter who they draw in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, they’ll have their hands full.
The B’s will either play the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals in Game 1 of a first-round series that could start as early as this weekend. Given the unique scheduling and alignment for the 2021 NHL season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bruins are quite familiar with both clubs. Upon finishing the regular season Tuesday in Washington D.C., the B’s will have played each team eight times.
The Bruins enter that Tuesday game in D.C. with a 4-1-2 record this year against the Caps, having outscored them 25-23 in seven games. Boston took five of eight games against Pittsburgh, outscoring the East Division champs 21-19. Basically, it’s a dead heat among the three teams, and while their styles vary somewhat, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy is preparing for a battle either way.
“We’ve seen a lot of both teams and Pittsburgh does give you a different set of challenges,” Cassidy said Monday ahead of the team’s second-to-last game vs. the Islanders. “They’re both really good teams, really well-coached, so you start there. Both have pedigree, but they play a little different style. Pittsburgh is a little more speed — Washington has a lot of speed — but Washington has bigger-body guys down low. Pittsburgh has a great cycle game, especially the Crosby line even though they’re not what you’d call big guys.
“Even though they’re dissimilar in their makeup, they still play similar games. You have to be aware, both D corps have guys who can activate. They both have young goalies, which can work both ways. We’ve seen young goalies carry a team through the playoffs, and sometimes they’re not ready so that’s a question mark both teams have as well.”
Cassidy and his staff have yet to finalize their roster and lineup for the first round. Some of that depends on the opponent and some of it depends on who’s playing well. Adding a wrinkle to the discussion is the return of Ondrej Kase on Monday night. He’ll skate on the fourth line in just his third game of the season, giving Cassidy yet another viable option in the lineup.
While some tinkering is possible, Cassidy also believes his roster’s versatility is well-suited for either club.
“There may be a player or two who can go in or out,” he said. “We feel we have guys who can play against either-or, but yeah, you might need a bigger group against Washington or a faster group against Pittsburgh if that’s the term of the game is dictated. We feel we can play either way, as I’m sure they do.”
No matter the matchup, one legitimate Stanley Cup contender is going to be eliminated in Round 1.