Two storied franchises, and two heated rivals, will face off for the fifth time in Stanley Cup Playoff history starting on May 15 to kick off the much-anticipated 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While five times might seem like a surprise, it is all moot, as the (3) Boston Bruins and (2) Washington Capitals will surely make this series as entertaining as all their other postseason meetings put together.
This surely looks like a bold take on the surface, but with both teams possessing the stardom, firepower, checking capabilities and clutch gene, it very well might not be.
Who holds the edge, though? And more importantly, who will advance to the second round to face either the (1) Pittsburgh Penguins or the (4) New York Islanders?
Without beating around the bush (or ice) any longer, here is my first-round preview and prediction between the Capitals and Bruins.
Here is the most obvious statement you will read in this article – both teams can score. A lot.
Over the course of the 2021 season, Washington averaged 3.36 goals per game, which was tied for fourth-best in the entire NHL (Florida Panthers). Boston, meanwhile, averaged 2.93 goals per game, which ranked 14th. Both teams additionally ranked inside the top 10 in power-play percentage (Washington ranked third with a 24.8 PP% while Boston ranked 10th with a 21.9 PP%). While Washington held the lead in these offensive categories, it was Boston who averaged more shots per game (33.3) when compared to their counterpart (29.4).
The base statistics are certainly fine and dandy, but you do not need to dive into the analytics too much to recognize that both teams possess excellent forward lines. In Washington’s case, they have Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson and trade deadline acquisition Anthony Mantha, just to name a couple.
In Boston’s case, they have the “Perfection Line” in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, with the trio coincidentally (or not) leading the team in points (69, 48 and 48, respectively). While depth will certainly play a factor into who takes the cake here, so will health. With Ovechkin, (lower-body), Oshie (lower-body) and a slew of others dealing with nagging injuries on Washington’s end, Boston takes the edge, even if by sheer technicality.
Both teams are cut from the same checking cloth, as both rely on big-time hits in all three zones to regain control of the puck and create more shooting and scoring chances. In terms of shots allowed per game, Boston’s 27.1 shots allowed per game were tied for second fewest (Dallas Stars), trailing only Colorado’s 25.4 shots per game. Washington did not lag too far behind, as their 28.8 shots allowed per game ranked 11th.
The big storyline here is Zdeno Chara, who, at 44 years old, will face off against his former team in Boston as a top pairing blue liner. Chara, in addition to John Carlson, should be able enforce the team’s high hit totals quite well. And keep in mind, this is without even discussing the fact that Washington’s forward lines check extremely well to the point that they act as defensive units, too. Boston has the pieces, but Washington has experience and a slight bit more aggression.
If there is one category where one team has a significant edge over the other, it is between the pipes. Now, full disclaimer – Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek have had solid moments while donning a Washington sweater this season. Both are young and have maintained an identical 2.69 Goals Against Average (GAA) in 54 games started, Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Jeremy Swayman have combined to not only be more impregnable (they currently maintain a 2.28 and 1.50 GAA, respectively), but be more unique in their blend of veteran experience and raw youth. And to think – should one falter, Jaroslav Halak awaits in reserve.
I have been surprised before, but when you tally all the pieces together, Boston brings more depth, production and pure stopping power when compared to the Capitals. With this series looking to be a slugfest, it will be about what tandem can get that extra stop. Put your chips in Boston achieving this.
All health issues aside, this series will have a ton of fireworks. Huge hits, explosive slap shots, clutch saves and everything in-between will all be in the cards in what will be a series that should go the distance. With that said, health and goaltending is key, and as of right now, Boston holds the edge in both. Washington has enough depth to make it interesting, but in the end, both factors will reign supreme in the Bruins’ favor.
Prediction: Bruins in Seven