It’s that unmistakeable time of the year when the city is abuzz. The Red Sox will open their home portion of the season Friday. The Celtics are capping their regular season. Thousands will ine up in Hopkinton Monday to do some ungodly long run. But the most important event happens Thursday night at the TD Garden as the Boston Bruins will put its fans on hopefully, another two month emotional roller coaster ride.
The Bruins host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series in what some are seeing as the team that could upset the Bruins in the first round. I’m not so sure about that however, the Caps did win the season series 3-games to 1. The Bruins will be looking to become the first team to repeat as Champions since the Detroit Red Wings swept these same Washington Capitals four straight 14 years ago in 1998. Boston is back to playing their game in which they hit, force turnovers, challenge their opponents and with Tim Thomas giving them the kind of goaltending they need, well, like last year, anything is possible.
They also need to restrain the offensive punch of Washington. Alexander Ovechkin, by all accounts had an off year and “only” scored 38 goals and led the Caps in scoring but he also has a pretty good supporting cast in Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green who has missed more than half the season is back on the blue line.
As with any playoff, injuries come into play and both teams are missing a few key players. Tuukka Rask practice with the team this week and seems to be coming along. Right now it wouldn’t surprise me if he was sitting on the bench backing up Thomas come Thursday night! Adam McQuaid is out with an upper body injury (eye-possible concussion) and it looks like he will not start the playoffs. Johnny Boychuck is day-to-day with his knee but has been skating and could possibly start the playoffs.
Conversely, Washington is missing both goaltenders who played all year as Tomas Volkoun is out with a groin injury, deadly for a true butterfly goalie, and Michal Neuvirth is nursing a lower body injury as well. Braden Holtby will be the game 1 starter Thursday, backed up by journeyman/lifetime AHL-er and one time Providence Bruin Dany Sabourin. Not necessarily Vezina material but the Caps are hoping for the rookie to come up big in hoping for the upset.
There is not a lot of difference between this seasons team and last years except for the fact that the B’s have had mood swings all year. October was a big laugh, November & December, they were unbeatable, and from January till mid March they were a .500 team that seem to wander around not knowing what they were doing. Focus has been the issue as they finished the year with a solid 7-2-1 run and begining to resemble the team they think they are.
The Bruins have to be physical with the highly skilled players on the Caps, and Zdeno Chara has always played well against Ovechkin and if Claude Julien employs the pairing of Chara with Dennis Seidenberg which was a huge factor in last years Cup run, it should fair well for Boston.
Offensively, I see no chances in line for Boston as leading scorer, Tyler Seguin, who had more points than “The Great 8”, will continue with Patrice Bergeron , (my MVP of the team) at center and Brad Marchand on the other side. The depth of this team is what will make difference, as all four lines will have to continue to give solid contributions.
I generally do not make predictions on the Bruins playoff series because for 39 years it was all too crushing when you let your heart get in the way of your head. I’m a little more pragmatic as I am older. However, my editor asked for the predictions from us.
So, with goaltending always being magnified this time of year, Mr Holtby may come up with some sparkling saves on occasion, but really, I see no reason why the Bruins offense will be stymied. Tim Thomas, until proven otherwise, should be his old playoff self. Bruins win in six games!