KEYS TO THE SERIES
1. Turning to the kid
When the Capitals signed veteran Tomas Vokoun in July, the intent was for him to be the man and, eventually, the playoff starter. You can’t always get what you want, or even Michal Neuvirth healthy enough to get the nod for the second straight year. As GM George McPhee pointed out, the Caps “have no choice” but to hand the reins to 22-year-old Braden Holtby, who played in just seven NHL games this season. But he’s more than ready. “I don’t think there was ever a question about that. If I did question it, we’re in trouble,” Holtby said. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins go with reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas.
2. Match game
Dale Hunter likes matching lines, though he admitted that’s harder to do on the road. The Bruins feature six 20-goal scorers and offensive punch from every line. “I think that plays to [coach Claude Julien’s] strength, also. He can respond,” Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said. “I think our depth through the forward position lets us mix up the lines and sometimes that can throw a hard matcher off.” The key for the Capitals is finding favorable chances for Alex Ovechkin and Co. to succeed, ideally away from Zdeno Chara.
3. Faceoff and on
There’s no better faceoff team in the league than the Bruins, who feature one of the best in Patrice Bergeron. The Capitals are likely at least starting the series with Jeff Halpern out of the lineup, which means it’s on Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle to control the puck off faceoffs. Capitals centers held their own in the past two meetings, but they’ll need to step up as Boston cranks into playoff mode. “When you go into a faceoff, if you have the mindset that you want to win it, it’s going to make a big difference,” Bergeron said.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Caps LW Alex Ovechkin vs. Bruins D Zdeno Chara
Everyone in hockey will be watching as Ovechkin, a 1.35-point-a-game player in the playoffs, goes up against Chara, who might be playing the best defense of his distinguished NHL career. “Chara takes pride in shutting down Ovechkin,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenseman said it “motivates” him to play against superstars. Capitals coach Dale Hunter knows Chara will be against Ovechkin as much as Boston can make that happen, but Ovechkin downplayed the matchup. “It’s going to be nice. It’s not going to be just against me and Chara,” Ovechkin said. “It’s going to be Boston vs. Washington, and of course our personalities is going to be out there but the most important thing is how is the team going to respond to what’s going to happen out there.”
CAPS’ PROJECTED LINES
Alex Ovechkin-Brooks Laich-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera-Nicklas Backstrom-Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks-Jay Beagle-Marcus Johansson