4.12.2012

10 Reasons Why the Capitals Can Beat the Bruins

Alex Semin with the puck against the Bruins on March 29th. (Getty Images)
1. There's no pressure. Even just a few weeks ago, the Capitals' playoff chances were unlikely. Now, in their first round match up with the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Bruins have been picked as the likely winners almost unanimously among the media. The Capitals haven't had this low expectations for the playoffs since 2008, when they miraculously made the playoffs with a late season run under then-rookie coach Bruce Boudreau. This time, they get to play spoilers against the Boston Bruins, and nobody is going to blame them if they get swept. They have nothing to lose, and that can sometimes be the best thing to happen to a team.

2. History isn't on Boston's side. The last 10 Stanley Cup champions have failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs an overwhelming 7 times. Of course, if there's anything the playoffs are good for, it's making history.

3. Braden Holtby. Following the Tomas Vokoun signing, Braden Holtby's season looked pretty clear cut; he'd toil away in the AHL, lead the Bears to a playoff berth with Dany Sabourin, and then try to make it as far as possible in the Calder Cup playoffs. Now, 10 months later, he's the starting goalie for the Washington Capitals in their first playoff game. He is the second to last option for the Capitals at this point, and so the expectations are more or less zero. There's no pressure for the entire team, and doubly so for Braden Holtby.

4. Boston's battered blue-line. Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk are both questionable for Thursday's game, leaving Boston with no choice but to dress Mike Mottau and defensive disaster Joe Corvo. Beyond their top pairing of Chara & Seidenberg, the Bruins' defense is not the best it can be; they'd effectively have their 7th and 8th defensemen playing a good amount. If the Capitals can successfully exploit this, they can change the course of the series dramatically.

5. Alexander Semin. Chara & Seidenberg will be tasked with shutting down Ovechkin's line, so any contributions from him will be a plus. Thankfully, Dale Hunter seems to be using Semin & Backstrom on a separate line from Ovechkin, leaving the Capitals with two lines that can score. As long as Ovi keeps the top pair occupied, Backstrom & Semin have a chance to inflict some damage on the scoreboard, as long as "Good Sasha" shows up for the playoffs. Based on his recent performance, and based on his relative lack of playoff success lately, I'd say he's due for a good series. If Semin starting pumping in the goals, look out.

6. The Ovechkin–Laich–Brouwer line. The Capitals are among the largest teams in the NHL, and this has to be one of the largest lines in the league. Ovechkin and Brouwer are both fearsome hitters, and if this group can forecheck well (and make sure to hit anything and everything), Boston's players could end up hurting sooner than later. Considering this line will be facing Chara & Seidenberg all series long, they need to make sure to hit Chara heavily, and throw him off his game. Plus, some offense wouldn't hurt either.

7. Keeping their cool. Dale Hunter has to drill into the team that they can't retaliate to the pests that dot the Bruins' lineup. Lucic, Marchand, Kelly, Campbell, Thornton, and many more will be trying the entire time to get underneath the Capitals' skin – and the Caps cannot let that happen. The agitating is what Boston thrives on; you won't be able to out-pest or out-fight the Bruins, so there's no need to even try. Skate away, let them take penalties, and inflict the damage on the scoreboard instead of in the scrums.

8. Tim Thomas. The last time the Capitals saw Tim Thomas, he had just been embarrassed in the shootout by the likes of Matt Hendricks, and was tripping his way down the tunnel to the dressing room. Thomas also turned down a visit to the White House this past season, for personal reasons. Can Thomas keep his cool with the media attention that will surround the series? His stellar play is key to the Bruins' success, and if he falters there's only Anton Khudobin backing him up right now.

9. The bad regular season. The Capitals had to fight tooth and nail for every point they got this season. Partly due to injuries, partly due to a poor work ethic, partly due to bad goaltending, partly due to questionable coaching – the point being, they've been through it all. Now that the team is mostly healthy, can they put those lessons learned to good use? The team has been near unbeatable with all four "Young Guns" in the lineup... can that continue?

10. They can win if they score first.  The Capitals are 25-3-5 when scoring the first goal. As their performance Saturday against the Rangers showed, they can shut down a game with a goal or two early on. If the Capitals team that showed up Saturday does so in the playoffs, that there's little they cannot do. After all, the Capitals were a Cup favorite heading into the season, and for good reason. This is a skilled team, with a solid defense, a solid offense (though some question marks still remain at center), and the goaltending has been there. When they put everything together, they can beat the very best... and they have. Score early, play defense, keep the offensive pressure, and hope for good goaltending from Holtby... and the series is far from an easy win for the Bruins.

2 comments:

  1. Tushar12.4.12

    Great article. Just one quick note. Ovechkin plays with Marcus Johansson and Laich when Backstrom is playing with Semin. Usually Troy is on the third line.

    Other than that I really enjoy reading your blog.

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  2. IIRC the lines from Wednesday's practice (haven't checked today's yet) were 8-21-20 and 25-19-28.

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