The Washington Capitals have earned the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and will open the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. To prepare you for what is in store in the Caps’ upcoming first-round series, below is a primer about the Bruins and what to expect from them.
Forward Lines (as of Sunday):
Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Rich Peverley
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot – Chris Kelly – Jordan Caron
Daniel Paille – Gregory Campbell – Shawn Thornton
The Bruins are one of the most balanced teams in the NHL. They boast six 20-goal scorers, more than any other team in the league, receive production from all four lines and average 3.17 goals per game, tied for second-highest in the league. Seguin was Boston’s breakout star this season; after a 22-point season in 74 games during his rookie season last year, he led the Bruins with 29 goals and 67 points. The Bruins are not only a balanced scoring team, but also a team filled with a steady mix of youth and veteran leadership on the front end; Seguin (20 years old), Marchand (23) and Lucic (23) are complemented by players like Peverly (29), Kelly (31), and Thornton (34). Most importantly, they all have Stanley Cup championship experience as the Bruins are relatively unchanged from last season’s Cup-winning team.
Zdeno Chara – Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference – Johnny Boychuk
Mike Mottau – Greg Zanon
Of course, when looking at the Bruins’ defense, the first thing one sees is the 6’9″, 255-pound Chara, who arguably possesses one of the hardest shots in NHL history, but behind Chara (literally and figuratively) are five solid defensemen who can also contribute both offensively and defensively. Chara and Seidenberg are the Bruins’ shutdown pair, tasked with blanketing the opposition’s top line, while Ference and Boychuk are the muscle, bruising opponents in the dirty areas. Mottau and Zanon are a serviceable bottom pair.
Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask/Anton Khudobin
One of the biggest reasons why the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last season was because of the play of Thomas, who earned the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophies after a spectacular season. Thomas finished the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 16-9 record, 1.98 GAA and .940 SV% and only allowed eight goals in seven games against the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final.
By those standards, Thomas’ season this year was a slight downgrade, but he won 35 games once again with a 2.36 GAA and .920 SV% in 59 games. Yet, he has proven that he can steal a game and an entire series. That is, if he can stay up.
Meanwhile, Rask has been out of action since March 3 with a groin injury (a pain the Caps know all too well), but head coach Claude Julien hopes to have him back by next week. If Rask cannot play, Khudobin will back up Thomas.
Boston’s power play and penalty kill are both respectable, sitting 15th and 11th in the NHL, respectively. The Bruins’ power play has been suffering from quite the outage lately, however, as they are only 6-for-48 (12.5%) since March 1.
The Bruins are one of the toughest teams – if not the toughest – in the league. In this year’s NHLPA Players Poll, Lucic, Chara and Thornton were voted as the NHL’s three toughest players by their peers. Add in a shift-disturber of the highest degree like Marchand (President Obama anointed him as “The Little Ball of Hate” for a reason) and the Bruins are a mean team. Expect a skirmish of some kind after almost every whistle (primarily from Lucic in front of the crease), but it is all part of a bigger plan. The Bruins wear out their opponents physically and mentally.