By: Thomas Isbister @IsbisterTom
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Two of the most consistently good teams over the last decade face off in round one of the East Division. The poor Capitals were destined to face the Bruins, at the deadline this was going to be the 1 vs. 4 matchup. Instead, the Penguins overtook the Capitals and the Bruins became monsters, while the Islanders fell off a cliff. The hockey gods decided to give us what could be one of the most entertaining series of the first round.
Odds via Bet365
Percentage odds via Dom Luszczyszyn & MoneyPuck.com
Both of these teams are very similar in almost all aspects. Big, feisty, heavy, with a top-6 filled with high-end forwards. This matchup couldn’t be more close, they go line for line with each other. The season series told a similar story, splitting it four games each.
Boston comes into the playoffs really finding their footing, the Taylor Hall addition at the deadline has been more than perfect for them and provided much-needed depth on a line with David Krejci and Craig Smith. We all know how the Bruins ‘Perfection Line’ is going to do, the three-headed monster is back in form after a rough first half and is a big part of the Bruins turn around. For the first time all year, the Bruins defense is healthy. Including Brandon Carlo who was injured by Tom Wilson earlier in the season, but more on that later. In net the Bruins have an advantage with Tuuka Rask, despite what Bruins fans say about him, he has been great for them and will definitely give them an edge over the Capitals’ goaltending.
Washington on the other hand comes in after finishing the year single-handedly dismantling the New York Rangers franchise. Their deadline move of sending Vrana and picks out for Mantha was perplexing, however, it did make them a tougher team to play against and is a great fit for this first-round matchup. The Capitals also had issues with injuries down the stretch, and will likely get Ovechkin and Kuznetsov back in time for game one. The back end is fairly unchanged from the last few years with one major exception, Zdeno Chara. The largest question for the Caps will be in net, they have three goalies, none of which have been particularly good this year. Samsonov most likely gets the nod for game one, but has been disciplined by the team for the last few games of the year, Vanecek has been surprisingly serviceable and will backup. Either goalie can start based on who has the hot hand, much like Holtby and Grubauer when the Caps won the cup in 2018. That isn’t the worst situation to be in, but if your Washington, you hope someone gets hot.
There is a lot of bad blood between these two teams, which has really only existed for the last few months. Expect a lot of extra wacks after whistles, lots of scrums, and more emotion than other series. Boston has a chance to get the ultimate revenge on Tom Wilson for his hit on Carlo earlier in the year. While Washington is no stranger to dealing with that retribution as they’ve been dealing with it for the last few weeks. Chara in a Caps jersey feels weird, and it will only get weirder once he plays the Bruins in a series. With how that relationship ended I’m sure it will only add fuel to the fire, making every battle that more intense. And for the first time in their careers, Marchand and Bergeron will be arguing for a penalty to be called on Chara.
Players to Watch
- Nick Backstrom: 55GP / 15G / 38A / 53P
- John Carlson 52GP / 10G / 34A / 44P
- T.J. Oshie: 53GP / 22G / 21A / 43P
- Wildcard – Evgeny Kuznetsov: 41GP / 9G / 20A / 29P
- Brad Marchand: 53GP / 29G/ 40A / 69P
- David Pastrnak: 48GP / 20G / 28A / 48GP
- Patrice Bergeron: 54GP / 23G / 25A / 48P
- Wildcard – Jake DeBrusk: 41GP / 5G / 9A / 14P
One of these teams will get one more shot as their championship windows close. This might be the most controversial series of them all, lots of hate between the rosters and varying opinions for why either side could come out on top.
Washington is a good team with plenty of depth. Boston is top-heavy and hard to contain. Later in the season, Boston has turned themselves into an elite 5v5 team, with plenty of sustainable numbers to dominate the East. The Caps on the other hand have been more mediocre with a high-shooting percentage, something Boston can easily shut down.
It will be an interesting series, but the way Boston has improved in the second half of the year makes them a formidable opponent, rightfully earning the title of ‘favorite’ in this series.