The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us and, while things will look a little different this time out, there will be some thrilling matchups in the first round. First up, here is a look at the Stanley Cup First Round showdown between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins.
Game One of this series launches Saturday.
The Bruins and Capitals haven’t met in the post-season since 2012, although each club has plenty of experience. Washington has been in the dance in each of the last seven seasons, winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Boston has made the playoffs in each of the past five, winning the Cup in 2011 and reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019.
There are some fascinating storylines to define this series, but the elephant in the room is doubtlessly Zdeno Chara.
Chara captained the Bruins each time they made it to the Final, but this time out he’s wearing the other team’s colours. Prior to joining the Capitals on December 30, he was the longest-tenured captain in the league.
The 44-year-old’s arrival in Washington left the Bruins lacking on the blueline, especially after they also left Torey Krug to sign with the St. Louis Blues in the off-season. This puts their D under the microscope, but they’ve mostly come through. Boston has limited opponents to 2.39 goals against per game, making them the fourth stingiest team in the league.
Like every club meeting in the first round following this unique season, the Capitals and Bruins will be well-acquainted. They tangled one last time Tuesday, with Washington taking the 2-1 victory.
For Washington, Tuesday’s game was vital because it brought Alex Ovechkin back into the fold. The 35-year-old struggled with injuries this season and the Tuesday start was just his second appearance since April 22.
Injuries were the story of the Capitals this season, as Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, and Ilya Samsonov were among those to miss time. Evgeny Kuznetsov hasn’t played since May 1, missing five straight due to COVID-19 protocols. There is no exact timeline for his return.
It was up to Backstrom to lead the Capitals in scoring this season. He scored 15 goals and added 38 assists for a total of 53 points this season, marking the first time since 2016-2017 that he led the squad in points.
The Bruins will counter with 33-year-old Brad Marchand, who is posting points at a remarkable rate. He has 69 in 52 games this season. Boston elected to rest him, along with several key players, Tuesday against Washington.
Both teams boast some new blood, with the Bruins bringing Taylor Hall to the party. Acquired April 12 thanks to a trade with the Buffalo Sabres, the 29-year-old has experienced a resurgence with Boston. He has just 14 games of playoff experience with the Arizona Coyotes and New Jersey Devils, with a dozen points in those post-season appearances.
Anthony Mantha joined the Capitals on April 12. He scored in each of his first five games with his new club, but he’ll be making his playoff debut. The former Detroit Red Wing has 29 points in 55 regular season games.
Special teams will be a major factor, as Washington has pretty much owned the Bruins on the power play. The Capitals had scored nine power play goals in 30 opportunities against Boston ahead of Tuesday’s action, posting a higher average against their first round opponents than any other club in the league.
In terms of goaltending, the Bruins bring the experienced Tuukka Rask for another kick at the can. He was limited to 24 games this season due to injury and his record against Washington is questionable (4-11-7), but Boston likes their chances with the veteran.
Without Braden Holtby in the fold, the Capitals will turn to Vitek Vanecek. Samsonov could see a first round start or two, but as of now he is sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols. That puts Craig Anderson in the backup role. For Vanecek, it’s a big opportunity despite his lack of playoff experience.