When is the Penguins first playoff game?
Monday, May 10, 2021 10:35 p.m. TribLIVEPenguins to face Islanders in first round of playoffs
12 May, 2021 - 05:00am
11 May, 2021 - 08:03am
Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde, Pete Thamel
The Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals will meet in one of the most evenly matched first-round series of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
These teams haven't squared off in the playoffs since 2012 when the Capitals eliminated the defending champion Bruins in overtime of Game 7 at TD Garden. It was actually goaltender Tim Thomas' last game with the B's.
The Capitals finished the season as the No. 2 seed, and thus will enjoy home-ice advantage over the No. 3 seed Bruins in this Best-of-7 series. That said, the Bruins were the hottest team after the trade deadline with a 12-3-1 record through Monday. Boston didn't trail for a single minute in 10 of those 16 games.
Here's a playoff preview for Bruins vs. Capitals. Game 1 is set for Saturday night at 7:15 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network. (All stats via Natural Stat Trick)
The Bruins have gotten the better of the Capitals in the regular season with a 4-1-2 record. These teams will square off in the regular season finale on Tuesday night in Washington.
Here are some key 5-on-5 stats from their season series so far:
The Bruins scored 25 goals and allowed 22 in all situations versus the Capitals through seven games. The B's scored three goals on the power play and two shorthanded, while giving up nine Capitals power-play goals.
The Capitals power play versus the Bruins penalty kill could be the matchup that decides the series.
Boston had the second-best penalty kill in the league with an 85.6 percent success rate, but Washington enjoyed plenty of success against this unit during the regular season. The Capitals power play scored more goals (nine) and tallied more shot attempts (75), shots on net (50) and scoring chances (47) against the B's penalty kill than any other East Division team.
Overall, Washington had the third-most successful power play in the league at 25 percent. The Capitals also have so many quality scorers to put on the ice with the man advantage, including Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie. Ovechkin is one of the best power-play scorers of all time.
Acquiring Hall at the trade deadline completely transformed Boston's offense. They were among the league's worst 5-on-5 teams before Hall arrived, but they've been an elite 5-on-5 offense in his 16 games with Boston. The B's boast a plus-126 edge in shot attempts, a plus-65 advantage in shots on net, a plus-73 lead in scoring chances and a fantastic 15-1 scoring differential with Hall on the ice during 5-on-5 play.
Hall scored twice Monday night versus the Islanders, including the game-winner in overtime. His eight goals in 16 games for Boston are six more than he had in 37 games with the Sabres prior to the trade. The former Hart Trophy winner has given Boston valuable scoring depth and dependable two-way play on the second line, which has also rejuvenated veteran center David Krejci.
The B's need Hall to carry his impressive scoring production into the playoffs for them to make a deep run.
Marchand led the Bruins in goals (seven) and scoring (13 points) against the Capitals during the regular season. He also paced Boston with 29 goals, 40 assists and 69 points in 53 games overall. Marchand is an elite scorer and Boston's most consistently dangerous offensive player who plays in all situations, including both special teams units. A big series from Marchand would really benefit the Bruins in so many areas.
McAvoy was arguably the B's MVP this season and he will face plenty of tough matchups in this series. The Capitals forward he played against the most during the regular season at 5-on-5 was Alex Ovechkin. McAvoy excelled in the matchup, too. The B's had a plus-12 edge in shot attempts, a plus-8 lead in shots on net, a plus-8 advantage in scoring chances and outscored the Capitals 5-0 when McAvoy was matched up against Ovechkin during 5-on-5 action.
Boston will have a strong chance to win the series if McAvoy enjoys similar success versus Ovechkin.
The Capitals gave up a lot to acquire Mantha from the Red Wings at the trade deadline for these kinds of playoff moments. Mantha has played well for Washington with eight points (four goals, four assists) in 13 games since the trade, including a goal in his only game against Boston. We can expect Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin to show up and produce offensively, but the Caps will need secondary offense to beat a deep and high-scoring B's team. Mantha is one of the players who needs to provide that scoring depth.
Wilson had a few run-ins with the Bruins this year, including a high hit on B's defenseman Brandon Carlo in March that resulted in a seven-game suspension. Wilson is capable of being an effective power forward who scores goals, brings a lot of physicality to the ice and irritates the heck out of opponents. The Bruins cannot let Wilson bait them into stupid penalties because the last thing Boston needs is Washington getting a lot of power-play action. If Wilson is under control, he could be a really important player for the Capitals in this series. Washington draws a lot of emotion and energy from its physical play, and Wilson drives most of that.
It's kind of fitting that Chara is playing against the Bruins in his first playoff run with the Capitals.
Chara played most of his 5-on-5 minutes against the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line in the games against the Bruins this season. The B's dominated when Chara was on the ice against their top line, accounting for about 70 percent of the shot attempts and 65 percent of all shots on net. The easiest way to beat the Bruins in the playoffs is to slow down the first line -- something the Lightning did remarkably well in two of the last three years. If Chara sees a lot of action against the Bergeron line, he has to be much better than he was during the regular season for Washington to at least be even in that matchup.
Rask is one of the most experienced playoff goalies in the league with 93 career appearances. His .926 playoff save percentage ranks fourth-best among all active goalies with at least 20 postseason games.
The Finnish netminder was limited to 24 games this season because of injuries, so he should be fresh for a deep playoff run. He went 1-0-0 with a 2.59 GAA and a .905 save percentage in three games against the Capitals during the regular season. Rask has struggled versus Washington his entire career, though, posting a 4-11-7 record with a 3.03 GAA and a .894 save percentage.
If Rask struggles and/or isn't 100 percent healthy, it'll be interesting to see if rookie Jeremy Swayman gets any action -- assuming he's the backup. Swayman went 7-2-0 with a 1.44 GAA and a .946 save percentage in the regular season, including a 4-2 win at Washington on April 8 when he stopped 31 of 33 shots.
The Bruins have the advantage in talent, depth and experience between the pipes.
One of the reasons why the Capitals dominated the Bruins throughout the 2010s decade was Braden Holtby consistently outplayed Rask. But Holtby left Washington in free agency last offseason, and Vanecek is likely the team's No. 1 goalie entering the playoffs.
He struggled against the B's this season, posting a 3-3-0 record with a 3.19 GAA and a .896 save percentage. Vanecek also has zero games of playoff experience. He's not along in that regard, though. Backup netminder Ilya Samsonov also has zero postseason experience.
Ilya Samsonov could also start for the Caps at some point in the series, and he didn't excel against the B's in 2021, either. He posted a 0-1-0 record with a 3.66 GAA and a .871 save percentage in two games versus Boston.
But with Samsonov currently on the COVID protocols list, the No. 2 goalie for the Caps is veteran Craig Anderson. He beat the Flyers on Saturday night, and it was just his second appearance since Feb. 27. Anderson is no stranger to the playoffs with 46 career games of experience, and he beat the Bruins in a six-game first-round series as the Senators goalie in 2017.
Overall, the Capitals' goaltending is very much unproven at this time of the year. It doesn't mean Vanecek or Samsonov won't rise to the occasion, it's just unknown how they'll handle the increased pressure and expectations.
Boston's advantage in net, improved scoring depth and 5-on-5 production post-trade deadline, plus an elite penalty kill should be enough to tip the scale in its favor. The last playoff series between these teams in 2012 featured seven one-goal games. It wouldn't be surprising if we saw plenty more of those close games in this matchup.
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11 May, 2021 - 01:26am
It’s been an almost perfect fit for both Hall and the Bruins, and it’s left Hall with a smile and energy he’s rarely felt in a career that’s come with stops with Edmonton, New Jersey, Arizona, and Buffalo before Boston.
“It’s been 16 games [and] it’s probably been some of the most enjoyable hockey I’ve ever played in my career,” Hall, who scored two goals in a 3-2 overtime win Monday, said of his B’s run to date. “And I really hope that there’s more to come.
“I know the Bruins’ history and just the aura around the team has been a lot of fun to play for. I love my time here, the city is amazing just walking around and the energy in this area for the team, just in general, has been really fun to be a part of.”
First of all, to say that this is some of the most enjoyable hockey of his career is downright wild when you consider that Hall is a former MVP winner, and had an insane 26-game point streak during that run. I mean, he straight-up dragged that Devils squad kicking and screaming to the postseason, and had the accolades to go with it.
Speaking from a recent scope, however, Hall’s enjoyment as a secondary-but-valuable piece of the operation almost certainly comes back to the complete 180 from Hall’s brief-and-brutal stretch in Buffalo. And he’d be the first to tell you that.
Hall, who did not play in front of fans in Buffalo due to the city’s restrictions on capacity and gatherings, admitted that there was some “dark days” during his Buffalo run. He wasn’t sure exactly what happened, noting that the team had good chemistry and got along within in the locker room, but that it just never clicked on the ice. Hall didn’t write off the Buffalo experience entirely, of course, and said that the failures to produce were indeed his own fault and took responsibility for his on-ice woes.
But they’ve also been smashed to bits in Boston, with eight goals and 14 points in 16 games in town, and Hall looking every bit like the player who won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP back in 2017-18. And the return of that confidence has come with daily viewings of a 2021 Hart Trophy contender skating on a line above him.
“I mean, confidence is such a special thing in sports, and when you have it, you don’t really even know you have it,” Hall offered. “But when you don’t have confidence, it’s certainly apparent and I can’t really say what the turning point was or anything. But when I watch a guy like [Brad] Marchand play and the things that he does out there, I think that was a really good thing for me to watch him play, to see how hard he is on pucks, to see how many times he gives a second effort to to get a puck back or make a play on D or on offense. And he’s been a guy that I think our whole roster feeds off of.
“But to see how he plays, I know I can play a similar style, and it’s almost like you just kind of you watch someone do it and you’re like, ‘OK, I can do that.’ But that was a little thing. And then playing with Krej and Smitty, I think right off the bat we had a lot of chemistry. It helped that some goals went in to start my my time here. Sometimes that’s all you need.”
Hall isn’t going to settle for a strong first impression though, as he knows that his time (and perhaps his future) in Boston will be judged by his performance in the postseason, and whether or not he can be the piece to help push the Bruins to the top.
“Obviously, the playoffs and winning in the playoffs is something that you can’t really replicate in the regular season,” Hall acknowledged. “And that’s what we’ve been building for. Whatever you’ve done in the regular season, it kind of goes out the window and it’s time to perform and play well and ultimately help your team win in the playoffs.”
May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) shoots the puck during the second period against the New York Islanders at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Bruins left wing Nick Ritchie (21) and New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy (2) battle for position during the second period at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) controls the puck ahead of New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson (8) during the second period at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Bruins center Brad Marchand (63) scores a goal past New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) during the second period at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 29: Ondrej Kase #28 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Islanders at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on February 29, 2020 in Uniondale, New York. The Bruins shut out the Islanders 4-0. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts: New York Islanders center Casey Cizikas (53) and Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (48) collide along the boards during the first period at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) handles the puck during the first period against the New York Islanders at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts: New York Islanders left wing Anthony Beauvillier (18) controls the puck in front of Boston Bruins defenseman Mike Reilly (6) during the first period at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY)
May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts: New York Islanders right wing Kyle Palmieri (21) passes the puck while Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) pursues during the first period at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY)
May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) makes a save during warmups prior to a game against the New York Islanders at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY)
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.
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