Bruins Vs. Capitals Playoff Preview: Analysis, Predictions, X Factors

This promises to be a fun one

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The Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals saw a lot of each other this year.

They’re about to see a whole lot more of one another.

The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has arrived, and the second-seeded Capitals are set to face the third-seeded Bruins. It’ll be the first time the two sides have met in the postseason since 2012, when a thrilling opening-round set concluded with Washington ending Boston’s title defense in seven games.

Hopefully, the 2021 installment will be just as entertaining.

Here’s everything you need to know about Bruins-Capitals.

STATS HEAD-TO-HEAD (REGULAR SEASON, AS OF 5/13)
Goals/Game: Boston 2.93 (13th) | Washington 3.36 (5th)
Goals Allowed/Game: Boston 2.39 (4th) | Washington 2.88 (17th)
Power Play: Boston 21.9 percent (9th) | Washington 24.8 percent (3rd)
Penalty Kill: Boston 86.0 percent (2nd) | Washington 84.0 (5th)

SEASON SERIES
— Boston won the season series 4-2-2
Jan. 30: Capitals 4-3 (OT)
Feb. 1: Bruins 5-3
March 3: Capitals 2-1 (SO)
March 5: Bruins 5-1
April 8: Bruins 4-2
April 11: Capitals 8-1
April 18: Bruins 6-3
May 11: Capitals 2-1

SCHEDULE
Game 1 — Saturday, May 15 at 7:15 p.m. ET
Game 2 — Monday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET (NESN)
Game 3 — Wednesday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m. ET (NESN)
Game 4 — Friday, May 21 at 6:30 p.m. ET (NESN)
Game 5 — Sunday, May 23, time TBD
Game 6 — Tuesday, May 25, time TBD
Game 7 — Thursday, May 27, time TBD

FORWARDS
Bruins Projected Lines
Brad Marchand–Patrice Bergeron–David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall–David Krejci–Craig Smith
Nick Ritchie–Sean Kuraly–Charlie Coyle
Jake DeBrusk–Curtis Lazar–Chris Wagner

Capitals Projected Lines
Alex Ovechkin–Nicklas Backstrom–Anthony Mantha
Conor Sheary–Lars Eller–Tom Wilson
Daniel Sprong–Michael Raffl–T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin–Nic Dowd–Garnet Hathaway

Logan Mullen: This is pretty even, but the Capitals have fewer question marks in my opinion. The Anthony Mantha addition allowed them to flex their depth on the right side — T.J. Oshie as a third line winger is a fantastic situation.

What ultimately decides it, though, is they have less tinkering to do with the fourth line. The Bruins, who likely will use a DeBrusk-Lazar-Wagner fourth unit, probably has more offensive upside, but the Hagelin-Dowd-Hathaway is way more familiar with one another and less of an experiment at this point.

Not ruling out the Bruins ultimately having the advantage when all is said and done, but on paper my pick is Washington.

Advantage: Washington

Lauren Campbell: The Bruins have a ton of depth up and down their lineup, and have the ability to mix, match and plug in players where need be. Trent Frederic can be subbed in if the B’s find themselves needing an agitator on the ice or more physicality, while Ondrej Kase (if and when he’s healthy enough to return, of course) can round out a tough fourth line with Jake DeBrusk and Curtis Lazar. A line like that has the potential to be an absolute wagon.

Advantage: Bruins

Mike Cole: The Bruins’ certainly have the highest ceiling, assuming health and performance for players like Kase and DeBrusk, respectively, or both in the case of someone like Charlie Coyle. Then, up top, Patrice Bergeron’s line absolutely dominated Washington; the trio of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak combined to score 13 goals in seven games. The second line is a real weapon now, too, with Taylor Hall injecting a much-needed offensive boost, especially 5-on-5.

But for me, it’s still hard to say there’s a definitive advantage, especially with some unknowns. That’s not to say the Capitals’ situation is clear-cut; Washington has injuries of its own in the forward group to some key pieces. But Peter Laviolette’s top-six also has a very high ceiling, what with one of the greatest goal scorers in the history of the sport with Alex Ovechkin. This matchup is closer than some might believe, at least until Boston proves it can score if and when a playoff opponent neutralizes Bergeron’s line.

Advantage: Push

DEFENSE
Bruins Projected Pairings
Matt Grzelcyk–Charlie McAvoy
Mike Reilly–Brandon Carlo
Jeremy Lauzon–Kevan Miller

Capitals Projected Pairings
Dmitry Orlov–John Carlson
Brenden Dillon–Justin Schultz
Zdeno Chara–Nick Jensen

Logan: I think the Capitals’ defense stinks in its own end. The numbers probably don’t back that up as much as my eye test seems to, but I think it’s possible the Bruins’ defense shines significantly brighter than Washington.

It helps that the Capitals have a number of offensive defensemen, but the Bruins typically do a good job of getting in shooting lanes and limiting how much they get picked apart by puck-moving blueliners.

Advantage: Bruins

Lauren: While the Capitals certainly will benefit having Zdeno Chara on their blueline, especially on the power play, the Bruins have proven all season just how deep their defense is. There are big bodies on every line, plus Matt Grzelcyk’s puck movement and Mike Reilly’s ability to shoot whenever he has an open lane is something that will be beneficial against a strong Washington team.

Advantage: Bruins

Mike: Gonna try hard to not overreact to Jarred Tinordi’s sensational performance in the final game of the season. That’s a joke, of course, but that game did kind of showcase how there’s some blue-line depth for Boston that maybe it didn’t have in recent years — even with Chara. If things go sideways, Bruce Cassidy has options. The hope for the Bruins, of course, is that doesn’t happen because that’s a pretty good grouping, led by Charlie McAvoy, who is the best D-man on either team — by a good margin. Assuming full health, the pairing of McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk gives the Bruins a balanced top pairing they can ride for 25 minutes per night. The addition of Reilly has done wonders for that group, too, and Kevan Miller provides some snarl Boston definitely will need at some point in the series.

The Caps D corps is fine and could swing one way or the other depending on the health of Justin Schultz. Chara as a third-pairing defenseman ain’t bad, either. But if both defense groups play anywhere close to their potential, the B’s have an edge.

Advantage: Slight to Bruins

GOALIES
Bruins Goaltenders
Tuukka Rask
Jeremy Swayman

Capitals Goaltenders
Vitek Vanecek
Craig Anderson

Logan: It’s been a weird year for Rask, but he’s entering this postseason healthy and, all other factors being equal, is a more talented goalie than anyone the Capitals have to offer. I’m not going to overthink this.

Advantage: Bruins

Lauren: The goaltending may be the Capitals’ biggest weakness heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Anderson has just 40 games of postseason experience, while Vanacek has none. Swayman doesn’t, either, but Rask has plenty and a proven track record. Swayman has shown enough poise and confidence between the pipes in his short stint with the Bruins to prove he can handle the bright lights.

Plus, the Capitals just barely beat the Bruins in their regular season finale when Boston toted out a Providence-like lineup with Swayman between the pipes.

Advantage: Bruins

Mike: That Washington has yet to name its starting goalie kind of tells you where that’s at. It’s kind of like the Carolina situation in 2019, which obviously didn’t work out well for the Hurricanes.

The Bruins should feel quite comfortable with their goalie situation. Rask is one of the best in the game, and Swayman looks ready to push for his net at the first chance he gets.

Advantage: Bruins

X-FACTOR

Logan: Vitek Vanecek — I think Vanecek is a good goalie, and he has been fun story to follow this season. But it might not be too much of a reach to say he needs to have a Binnington-esque postseason for the Capitals. The last thing you want in the playoffs is an uncertain goaltending situation, but that’s where the Capitals are at.

For some reason, young goalies sometimes catch fire in the postseason. Let’s see which side of the aisle Vanecek ends up falling on.

Lauren: Taylor Hall — Hall has had an incredible short stint with Boston since being traded by the Buffalo Sabres at the deadline. He seems rejuvenated and even provided some stability for David Krejci in the Bruins’ final regular season games. If Hall can carry that momentum into the playoffs, then the Capitals will have their hands full with the top two lines.

Mike: Bruce Cassidy — The Bruins’ button-pusher might be busy in this series, in part because of all the other potential X-factors in this series. If things get real physical, how does Cassidy tweaks his lineup? Does he go to Frederic or even get real nuts and ring the Tinordi bell? How does he move his top line around to keep them engaged? Is he able to really take advantage of a potentially leaky Caps defense, as they’ve done in the past against a team like Toronto? Few coaches have their finger on the pulse of their team like Cassidy does, and it might require some shrewd decision-making to get Boston moving on.

PREDICTION

Logan: Bruins in five — Nothing would surprise me, but I think the Bruins have steadier goaltending and more depth across the roster. I don’t trust that the Capitals are fully healthy — Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie and Carlson all have dealt with ailments lately — and one of them going down could just kill Washington. I’m counting on the Bruins to outskate the Caps and win fairly handedly.

Lauren: Bruins in seven — I definitely see this series going the distance with the Bruins coming out on top. It will be a tough, physical and hard-fought series from the second the puck drops until the final horn sounds. Boston needs to win puck battles, not engage with Tom Wilson unless absolutely necessary. They just need to play Bruins hockey.

Mike: Bruins in six — The goaltending difference really stands out, and the Bruins’ recent scoring depth is exactly what it has used to go on deep playoff runs in the last decade. As long as Boston can keep its head (and stay healthy), it should find a way to win a wildly entertaining series.

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