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It's playoff time once again in the NHL and once again, the Boston Bruins are present and accounted for as the chase for Lord Stanley begins! Given how the NHL Playoff bubble ended back in September and all the rumors of the NHL considering no season and all the other happy stuff in between, the NHL has made it to their final 16 teams and their annual Tournament to crown a champion of the league for the 2020-2021 season.
The Bruins are still searching for their 7th championship in team history, the B's hoisted the Cup back in 2011 after defeating the Vancouver Canucks, and coming up just short against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and again in 2019 against the St. Louis Blues. The core is mostly in tact however, just four members remain for the championship squad in 2011 in Captain Patrice Bergeron, Alternate Captains David Krecji and Brad Marchand, along with goal tender Tuukka Rask. If you really think about it, for these four guys, their window in closing and closing fast. However, their first round opponent is a familiar foe and not an easy task to eliminate.
The Bruins finished third in the MassMutual East Division while the Capitals finished in second place, so in this series, the Caps will have home-ice advantage. In the regular season the Bruins went 4-2-2 against Washington, and the Bruins over the course of not only this season but last season as well, the Bruins have seemed to figure out a way to slow the Caps down a bit and the team has played better against the Capitals in recent match-ups. This is the first time that these two teams will meet in the first round of the playoffs since 2012 when Joel Ward ended the Bruins repeat hopes with an overtime winner in Game 7. The Capitals have recently won a Stanley Cup, the franchises first, back in 2018 against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Capitals have some heavy hitters in Tom Wilson, Branden Dillion and Garnet Hathaway. With elite and scary scorers in their Capitan Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom leading the charge. The Cap's also have old friend Zdeno Chara helping out on the blue line who is still playing significant first line paring minutes. Something that the Bruins were reluctant to give Chara after his contract expired with the Bruins after the 2019-20 season.
The Bruins might not be the Big Bad Bruins like they were back in 2011, but they got some guys that will drop the gloves in Kevan Miller, Jeremy Lauzon, Nick Richie, and even Trent Frederic will get into it. However, just like the Caps, the Bruins have some elite scorers themselves like Bergeron, Marchand, David Pastrnak, and trade deadline acquisition Taylor Hall, whose has been rejuvenated in his short time with the Bruins, score eight goals in 16 games, after scoring a measly two in 37 games with the Sabres.
The key player to watch for the Bruins this series will be Rask, and it's going to be for a multitude of reasons. The main question being this; can Rask get the Bruins over the hump and finally capture his long awaited Cup as the lead man? Jaroslav Halak's season and Bruins tenure is over as the Bruins are going to be going with Rookie Jeremy Swayman to be the back-up. Given the way Swayman played during the regular season while Rask was out with an injury and Halak with COVID, Swayman proved to the Bruins that he seems ready to take the next step.
But that raises another question, will Bruce Cassidy hesitate to pull Rask in favor of Swayman at any point during the postseason and ride the rookie all the way to a championship? As much as we would like to see a Cinderella story like we saw with Jonathan Quick in 2012 and Jordan Binnington in 2019. Could we see that type of situation happen here with the Bruins? Probably not as Cassidy does have the confidence in Rask, and feels that Tuukka gives the team the best chance to win. However, if the game gets out of hand a little and the team needs a spark, don't surprised if Cassidy pulls Rask in favor of Swayman just to light a fire under everyone.
We shouldn't think that it will come to that point as most of the match-ups to this point with Washington have been close. However, Rask should be looking over his shoulder and needs to perform well in the playoffs because Swayman looks poised to take over for Rask full-time whether that will be during this playoff run, in the offseason, or some time in the future. Rask's contract is set to expire at the end of the season, plus there is an expansion draft this summer as the Seattle Kraken look to build their roster for their first season starting in 2021-22 season. There have discussions internally that the Bruins want to bring back Tuukka, and Rask himself has expressed interest in returning. We will have let that play out, but just so you know Bruins fans, the future looks bright in the goaltending department.
Here is the series breakdown between the Bruins and Capitals for theirbest-of-7 series (*if necessary):
Game 1: Saturday May 15 at Washington at 7:15pm on NBC
Game 2: Monday May 17th at Washington at 7:30pm on NBCSN (game also available on NESN)
Game 3: Wednesday May 19th at Boston at 6:30 pm on NBCSN (game also available on NESN)
Game 4: Friday May 21st at Boston at 6:30 pm on NBCSN (game also available on NESN)
*Game 5: Sunday May 23rd at Washington. Time and networks TBD
*Game 6: Tuesday May 25th at Boston. Time and networks TBD
*Game 7: Thursday May 27th at Washington. Time and networks TBD
**All Bruins playoff games are also available on the Bruins Radio Network 98.5 The Sports Hub.
It's Spring time, which means it's playoff hockey time!
Good Luck B's!